One of Hollywood's finest African American costume designers, Ruth E. Carter, is currently on display at the Museum of Pop Culture (MoPop) in Seattle.
The performances and visual effects in a full-length movie may engross the typical moviegoer, but in most cases, the costumes serve as the connecting thread. The intricate details that go into Carter's designs that seamlessly integrate into the productions she's been a part of are astounding when looking at her work, which includes costumes for Black Panther, Malcom X, Selma, and movie legends like Oprah Winfrey, Denzell Washington, Forest Whitaker, and Angela Bassett.
Carter, whose art she refers to as "Afrofuturism," became the first African American to win an Academy Award for Achievement in Costume Design for Black Panther.
The simplest way to define afrofuturism, according to Carter, is as "African culture and the diaspora employing technology. And combining it with creativity, individual expression, and an entrepreneurial mentality."
In a more than thirty-year career in film, theater, and television, Carter has collaborated with some of Hollywood's most illustrious directors, including Spike Lee, Steven Spielberg, the late John Singleton, Ava DuVernay, and Ryan Cooglar. Do The Right Thing, School Daze, and Malcolm X are among the early films on her resume.
I had my first chance with Spike Lee's 'School Daze,'" Carter explains. "I was performing in theater, and Los Angeles at the time did not have a strong theater scene. I met Spike, who at the time wasn't the Spike Lee we know today. Instead, he had just graduated from film school and had just finished the movie ‘She's Gotta Have It,’ and he showed me how to acquire work in the industry.”
Carter's display is currently touring the country, but she eventually wants it to travel abroad.
She expresses the hope that this show will go on a global tour. "I would love to see this in London or Nigeria, but it is now a national event.”
Seattle is its fourth destination before moving on to Chicago after having been in three other museums.
Despite the fact that she is the one in the spotlight, Carter acknowledges that costume design is a team effort and gives a lot of credit to everyone who works tirelessly to realize her ideas in the background.
Carter claims, "I have a big team."
"Seamstresses, cutters, tailors, a lot of things are outsourced, a lot of things are made from molds, specialty costumes are built, there is a lot of work that goes on underneath costumes, harnesses that hold the costume to the body, I can sew but that didn't bring me into storytelling, I love telling the story of people and their lives, and I am good at thinking these up," the speaker said.
Additionally, Steven Spielberg's historical drama Amistad and the most recent iteration of Roots are among Carter's impressive collection of period films. It is said that Carter's designs are the result of her diligence, study, and need for authenticity. Carter's work, which brings the historical era of a film like Amistad to life, is driven by authenticity.
The creation of clothes for a historical film is a painstaking, slow process that cannot be hurried, according to Carter. "Reading about a time period, talking to historians, examining how the body moved and thought, and mastering cutting-edge or traditional design skills all improve the outfit."
It wasn’t by chance that her exhibit was shown in Seattle. Carter knew she had to make a stop in Seattle because she had been there before and had fallen in love with the museum there.
Carter claims, "I was here, I want to say in the early 90s. I was performing here in Seattle and my hotel was close to MoPop. I could hear Jimi Hendrix playing guitar songs from the museum and I was thinking wow, MoPop is a beautiful museum… that it was more than the Space Needle, it was MoPop," the performer said.
“It feels like a complete circle moment for me that my show has ended up here,” Carter continued. “Actually, some of my artistic talent is inferior to those of the other exhibits in this museum, but because I am here, this is a position I have earned and I am proud of. It is a privilege to bring these things here so that Seattle can appreciate and experience firsthand.”