Just 20 minutes into Black Panther, one can immediately sense that the 2018 superhero film is unlike any other in cinematic history. Aside from its strong Black female leads, part of its appeal is due to the fashion.
A pivotal scene where this can be seen (and felt) is during “challenge day” in the fictional African kingdom known as Wakanda. Before T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) claims his rightful spot on the throne at the ceremonial rite of passage, audiences are treated to a vibrant display of African fashion. The impressive battle scene unfurls to the sound of drums thumping and unified singing in the background. When the five tribes—River, Merchant, Mining, Border, and Mountain—emerge, showing off their traditional garb and accessories at the majestic Warrior Falls, it is then that the costumes take center stage.
The woman behind the muddy hues, earthy colors, and luxurious jewel tones framing the now-iconic waterfalls scene is Ruth E. Carter, the first African American woman to win the Oscar for Costume Design in 2019.
As Black Panther’s costume designer, Carter used the wardrobe of the men and women of the film as a vessel to highlight traditional African style to the world, and to signify their strength. The 58-year-old spent six months extensively researching Africa’s ancient customs to merge old techniques with modern ones, such as the 3D printing designed by Julia Koerner. And the result? An Afro-futuristic visual feast that fans still celebrate a year after the film’s release.