Award-winning costume designer Ruth Carter speaks at A&O’s spring speaker event


Joanne Haner/Daily Senior Staffer

Costume Designer Ruth Carter spoke to Northwestern students about her methods and experience Saturday.

Ashton Goren, Reporter

Costume designer Ruth Carter spoke at A&O Productions’ spring speaker event at 3 p.m. about her artistic process, Black memory and what it takes to design a Marvel film from behind the scenes.

The event began with a screening of “Black Panther,” which earned Carter the Academy Award for Best Costume Design in 2018. Communication Prof. Miriam Petty moderated the event, and members of Stitch Fashion Magazine and other students asked questions about Carter’s methods and experience.

Carter has worked on more than 60 film and television projects. Her interest in costume design began at Hampton University when she started drawing characters for the school’s theatre department.

“Most people don’t realize how many people it takes to create a Marvel film,” Carter said. “We are a machine behind the camera.”

A&O Director of Speakers and Communication junior Noah Rabinovitch said A&O chose Carter to speak because the group wanted to feature a designer in film.

Many NU students are interested in filmmaking and production, so A&O wanted to shine a light on what happens behind the camera, he said.

“(Carter) tells dynamic and interesting stories highlighting the Black experience, and we want to have speakers and performers that share the identities of students on campus,” Rabinovitch said.

After designing for dance companies and theater productions in Los Angeles, Carter began her career in the film industry by working on “School Daze” with Spike Lee in 1998. Her recent works include “Selma,” “Dolemite is My Name” and “Coming 2 America.” Carter said she is interested in avante garde fashion and likes to push the boundaries with her designs.

Carter grew up with a single parent and eight siblings, so she said she derives inspiration from her upbringing and approaches costume design with her community in mind.

“If you’re a part of a marginal community, you’re always thinking about dressing in a way that’s presentable,” Petty said. “A way that’s respected.”

Each story Carter works on is also rooted in research about the world she is building. Her costumes for “Black Panther,” for example, featured elements from 12 different African tribes that her design team studied.

Although the event wasn’t co-sponsored with Stitch, the fashion magazine submitted questions for Carter beforehand. Members of A&O wanted to include organizations interested in the content of the event. Rabinovitch said Stitch’s response was engaging and A&O was happy to have them.

Some students asked Carter about her experience with imposter syndrome as a young professional. Carter reminded students to prioritize their own aesthetic vision when working on a project. She said if they begin to feel like an imposter, they could be playing tricks on themselves.

Reflecting on her work with Marvel, Carter expressed interest in pursuing future projects about Black memory. She is interested in telling stories about family and overcoming day-to-day dysfunctions.

“This world isn’t perfect,” Carter said. “I’d like to sell the imperfect stories of life.”

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Twitter: @ash_goren 

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