“Black Panther” costume designer Ruth E. Carter made history on Sunday as the first African American to win the costume design Oscar for her work on the Marvel blockbuster.
Carter was chosen for the Academy Award ahead of “Mary Poppins Returns” and “The Favourite” designer Sandy Powell, who was nominated twice this year and already has three Oscars. Also competing were “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” designer Mary Zophres and “Mary Queen of Scots” designer Alexandra Byrne.
“Wow, I got it. This has been a long time coming,” she said, with a laugh. “Spike Lee, thank you for my start. I hope this makes you proud.”
Carter, an expert in period detail, became the first black person to be nominated for the costume design Oscar in 1993 for her work on Spike Lee’s “Malcolm X.” She was again nominated for her costume work on Steven Spielberg’s 1997 slave-ship drama “Amistad.” Ryan Coogler’s “Black Panther,” which is up for best picture, marked her third invitation to the high-profile ceremony.
“Marvel may have created the first black superhero, but through costume design we turned him into an African king,” she said Sunday. “It’s been my life’s honor to create costumes.”
She thanked the film academy for “honoring African royalty and the empowered way women can look and lead on screen” and also gave shout-outs to her crew and “Black Panther’s” “genius director” Ryan Coogler.
“You are a guiding force. Thank you for your trust and understanding my role in telling the African American story,” she said.
The sought-after designer, who worked closely with director Coogler on the superhero flick, was commissioned to create Afrofuturistic garments for the denizens and tribes of Wakanda that felt authentic to continental Africa while also expressing the technological superiority of the fictional, uncolonized nation.
“My career is built with passion to tell stories that allow us to know ourselves better. This is for my 97-year-old mother watching in Massachusetts. Mom, thank you for teaching me about people and their stories. You are the original superhero.”
Backstage in the press room, Carter said she hopes her historic win helps other creators like her.
“I dreamed of this night and I prayed for this night, honestly, not only just for being a hardworking costume designer, but what it would mean for young women coming behind me," she told reporters. "I dreamed of this night and now we won't necessarily have to wait for another first. We have the first.
"I've been struggling and digging deep and mentoring and doing whatever I could do to raise others up,” she continued. “I hope through my example, this means there's hope and other people can come on in and win an Oscar just like I did."
Carter acknowledged that technology definitely helped her secure the win.
“All of the nominees had brilliant costumes, but I had 3D printing — that might have done it,” she said, laughing.
And if she were to give advice to her younger self, she'd say, "Through the hard work, through whatever you might have felt or been afraid of, you are doing the right thing. Fear not, because tomorrow is yours."
Upon receiving the Costume Designers Guild’s Career Achievement Award earlier this week, Carter said she’d been designing “heroes and sheroes” throughout her career, highlighting her work on Lee’s ‘‘Malcolm X” and “Do the Right Thing,’’ Spielberg’s “Amistad,” Ava DuVernay’s “Selma” and Reginald Hudlin’s “Marshall.”
Times staff writer Ashley Lee contributed to this report.