James Baldwin once stated, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” There is no quote that better describes the work of Ruth E. Carter than Baldwin’s. In the thirty-seven years, Carter has been working as a costume designer, the world of Hollywood has been predominantly dominated by white men. However, Carter has done nothing short of staring the powers that be in the eyes and opening doors for underrepresented groups in Hollywood.
Ruth E. Carter was born during a time of change and social justice led by Bayard Rustin and Coretta Scott King. Raised in Massachusetts, Carter has always had a knack for design and an eye for fashion. She began her career as an intern in her hometown of Springfield before moving on to the Santa Fe Opera and ultimately ending up in Los Angeles, California. While in the City of Angels, Carter met a director and fellow HBCU graduate by the name of Spike Lee. Shortly after they met, a bond was formed and the rest is history.
Carter earned her first major role in costume design on the set of Spike Lee’s School Daze. In the year that followed, Carter developed a resume that includes Do The Right Thing, Mo’ Better Blues, Malcolm X, Jungle Fever and more. Beyond her relationship with Lee, Carter earned her recognition working on films like What’s Love Got To Do With It, Sparkle, The Butler and Selma. She’s dressed actors like Denzel Washington and actresses such as Angela Bassett. Unfortunately, Carter’s work spent most of her career unrecognized by those who have come to love the films she’s worked on.
Fortunately, Carter earned her moment in the spotlight last month at the 91st Academy Awards when she won an Academy Award for her work on Black Panther. In a moment of grace, Carter accepted the Academy Award by thanking Spike Lee for giving her a start in the industry. While Lee opened a door for Carter, Carter has opened a door for so many others.
She does a job that often goes unnoticed by viewers but continues to perfect her craft because she loves it all so much. Carter brings a level of creativity and confidence to everything that she touches. Without her creativity, T’Challa would not have his iconic suit. Without her style, Radio Raheem would not have his iconic brass knuckles. Without her fearlessness, our movies would not be with what they are. In an age ruled by the visual aesthetics of Instagram and Snapchat, Carter exhibits a sense of uniqueness in every visual piece she creates. She is truly one of a kind.