Ruth E. Carter talks about the meaning behind “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” costumes

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When she crafted her vision for the costume design for “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” the long-awaited sequel to 2018’s “Black Panther,” Ruth E. Carter knew she would face formidable challenges.

“We lost our hero. We worked on this film over Zoom during a global pandemic and we couldn’t hug each other to comfort each other in our grief.”

The Oscar-winning costume designer – whose extensive credits include “School Daze” (1988), “What’s Love Got to Do With It” (1993), “Sparkle” (2012), “The Butler” (2013) and “Selma” ( 2014) – was prepared to bring nine Marvel superheroes to life on screen and elevate the costumes of the recurring characters. But she also had a new, unique task ahead of her: to introduce the Talokan underwater world and the Wakandan Navy. Off-screen, the cast and crew were also nervous after the tragic death of Chadwick Boseman, who played the titular Black Panther before his death from colon cancer in 2020.

“This movie was one of the most complex endeavors,” Carter, 62, tells POPSUGAR. “We lost our hero. We worked on this film over Zoom during a global pandemic and we couldn’t hug each other to comfort each other in our grief.”

Carter reveals that Boseman had not shared that he was ill, so his “Black Panther” co-stars were unaware of the pain and suffering he was experiencing. “He continued to film and perform at a top level, which in turn motivated all of us to deliver our art in such meaningful and expansive ways on the second film,” she says.

Image source: Everett collection

By creating the new world of Talokan, the film pays tribute to the Mayan culture thanks to Maya vase database, a unique and comprehensive archive of Mayan knowledge, resources, history and art. Carter and her team examined Mayan codices, paintings, artifacts, hieroglyphs, janias figures, and pottery by Maya artisans that detailed the meanings and stories in their designs. They also worked with historians who are experts in Mayan archeology and culture to better understand the language, folklore and mysticism.

“The first film highlights Afrofuturism, where the costumes are a tribute to Africa and are recreated, without the constraints of colonization, by fusing traditional and modern to create form and function that manifests as futuristic,” says Carter. “This is the same approach we took with the second film when we introduced the world of Talokan. We wanted to honor the Mayan culture and highlight what is traditional while transcending to a futuristic look for the Talokan that complements their underwater world and adapts to land.”

BEVERLY HILLS, CA - FEBRUARY 24: 'Black Panther' Best Costume Design winner Ruth E. Carter attends the 2019 Vanity Fair Oscar Party hosted by Radhika Jones at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on February 24, 2019 in Beverly Hills, California .  (Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images)

Ruth Carter pictured after winning an Oscar for Best Costume Design for “Black Panther.”Image source: Getty/Dia Dipasupil

As part of a collaboration with Adidas and Marvel StudiosCarter mentored emerging women and BIPOC designers creating custom clothing and footwear for characters Shuri (Letitia Wright), Okoye (Danai Gurira) and Riri (Dominique Thorne).

“It was wonderful to work with young black and brown designers,” says Carter. “They were extremely excited and had no idea that the program they signed up for would lead them here to ‘Wakanda Forever.’ They were the Shuri and Riris of the design program: smart, creative and dedicated.”

In total, they produced seven unique costumes for Shuri, Okoye and Riri. The new designers learned the art of collaboration and how the creation of looks enhances an actor’s portrayal of a character.

“They worked on Shuri’s undercover suit, making it purple to represent her royalty, and creating a cape effect by designing a swing coat on her back that billows in the air like a cape when she’s on the move riding a motorcycle,” Carter say. Meanwhile, Okoye’s undercover look remained close to that of the Dora Milaje, because even when she’s undercover, she’s still associated with that identity.

“The printed graphic on the front and athletic bands around her suit support her muscles and feel like a harness, similar to the actual Dora Milaje look,” explains Carter. “Since Riri is an American tech genius student, we were able to put together her look from the Adidas campaign.”

Ahead, the prolific costume designer opens up about the meanings behind the ensembles in “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.”

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