At Sunday night’s Oscars, Ruth E. Carter became the first-ever black person to win Best Costume Design at the Academy Awards for her work on Black Panther.
"Wow, wow, I got it," Carter said after approaching the stage to collect her award. "This has been a long time coming."
The longtime costume designer shouted out director Spike Lee, who she thanked for giving her a start in the industry.
"I hope this makes you proud," she said. "Marvel may have created the first black superhero, but through costume design, we turned him into an African king.
"It's been my life's honor to create costumes. Thank you to the Academy, thank you for honoring African royalty, and the empowered way women can look and lead onscreen."
Carter was responsible for designing all the Afrofuturist looks in the Marvel blockbuster, from the ceremonial garb worn by King T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) to the elegant headwear worn by Ramonda (Angela Bassett) to the iconic red armor worn by the Dora Milaje warriors.
“We tried to imagine an area of Africa that wasn’t colonized,” Carter told BuzzFeed News last year of her work on the film. Her creative process involved “stripping something down and reimagining it in a modern society that kind of pays homage” to cultural traditions, while simultaneously creating “an interesting new view.”
“I really felt strongly that this was an aesthetic that had not been examined enough, that had not been dealt with in a modern way,” Carter told BuzzFeed News of the film’s African setting. “And I think that’s why I worked well with the people that hired me, because they felt the same way. We were here to kind of present it in a royal way.”
Black Panther was Carter’s third Oscar nomination overall. She made history more than two decades ago when she became the first black person to be nominated for costume design for her work on Lee’s Malcolm X in 1993. She was nominated again for Steven Spielberg’s Amistad in 1998, though she lost out on the award both times.
In a recent interview with Netflix’s Strong Black Legends podcast, hosted by Tracy Clayton, formerly of BuzzFeed News and the Another Round podcast, Carter said what made working on Black Panther different from her other projects was its global impact.
“When I had conversations with Ryan Coogler about what we were trying to do, it wasn’t something that was unfamiliar to any of us,” Carter said. “We all knew what Afrofuture was, we all knew what it meant to celebrate Kwanzaa, we all knew what the Last Poets were about. … That’s just part of the culture that I think has been embraced and celebrated throughout our lives."
The longtime designer said that she and Coogler wanted to embrace different facets of black culture “and elevate it and connect it back to Africa.”
Backstage at this year's ceremony, Carter remarked on her journey to an Oscar win, and what it means for up-and-coming artists.
“Finally the door is wide open and I’ve been struggling and digging deep and mentoring and doing whatever I could to raise others up," she said, "And I hope through my example this means that there is hope and other people can come on in and win an Oscar just like I did.”