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‘You can’t dismiss us any more’: the rise of black female costume designers

Black Women in Entertainment

‘You can’t dismiss us any more’: the rise of black female costume designers


Ruth E Carter hopes her Oscar win for Black Panther will open the door for more diversity in a field that’s been lacking

Regally draped in an embellished silk ball gown and a glittering jeweled necklace, costume designer Ruth E Carter ascended the stairs to the stage of the Dolby Theatre last week to claim her very first Oscar. Triumphing for her dazzling work in the Marvel blockbuster Black Panther, she told the A-list audience: “It’s been a long time coming.”

Her words spoke not only to her illustrious career, including nominations for work on Amistad and Malcolm X but for the industry at large, as Carter became the first black winner ever in this category.

Equal parts performance and garment construction and styling, costume design is an integral part of a film or television production. It defines characters, advances storylines, and sets the film apart on and off the production lot. But despite their omnipresence onscreen and otherwise, the intricate artistry of the profession often goes unnoticed. “We’re in a service profession,” Carter told the Guardian. “We are the ones that make [movie stars] look great. We are the ones that hide their flaws.”

But even more difficult than getting the earned recognition from colleagues is actually entering the industry in the first place. Costume design suffers from towering thresholds, leaving it bereft of diverse talent.

“They have made it very difficult to get into film,” says Gersha Phillips, costume designer for Star Trek Discovery and films including Talk to Me and …

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I am a future butterfly at the stage of growth when I am turning into an adult. I am enclosed in a hard case shell formed by love, family, and friends. It is the hardest stage of becoming a black butterfly. You will encounter many hardships only to come out stronger and better than what you went in. At this stage, you are finding out who you truly are and how to love yourself.

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