You’ve heard bold claims like “you’ll never look at ___ the same way again!” accompanying the most in-depth looks at your favorite films. Marvel Studios’ Black Panther: Dreams of Wakanda is one of the few books that absolutely delivers on that promise. It’s no exaggeration to say Dreams of Wakanda will forever change what it means to you the next time you hear “Wakanda Forever!”
The irresistible collection of essays on Black Panther comes from the voices of black journalists, authors, poets, writers and artists from around the world. None of these standout pieces pull their punches. Each unflinchingly examines the impact the film has had both personally and globally.
Among the book’s contributors is Ruth E. Carter, the costume designer who won an Oscar in 2019 for her work on Marvel Studios’ landmark film. You can read an excerpt from her amazing essay below.
Excerpt from the essay entitled “Afrofuturistic Beauty” by Ruth E. Carter
We have created over a thousand costumes with five concept artists, three assistant costume designers, specialist costume companies, agers/dyers, mold makers, costumers and jewelry artisans to honor beauty and l history of Africa and of the Dinka, Dogon, Himba, Lesotho, Maasai, Ndebele, Suri, Surma, Tuareg, Turkana, Wagenya and Zulu. The end product is a Wakandan afrofuturistic look that has expanded our view of beauty.
My passion and life’s work is to tell various stories through costume design. Before a word of dialogue is spoken, costumes begin to tell a character’s story – who they are and where they’ve been. It’s a visual narrative using fabrics, colors and patterns that bring characters to life, whether real, historical or imagined.
My journey into this profession began when I was a girl growing up in Springfield, Massachusetts. The youngest of eight siblings, I relied on everyone in our home to keep me entertained. My brother was the artist, and I was incredibly inspired to be like him. I spent hours in my bedroom at my desk being creative, whether drawing, coloring, or reading poetry and literature. One afternoon, I accidentally discovered a sewing machine hidden inside the office. My creative playground has expanded. From the most humble beginnings, this girl who knew how to dream and pursue that dream by any means necessary, began to develop her love for creating art.
I nurtured my artistic curiosity over the years, and it led me to follow my family heritage at Hampton University, a historically black college on the shores of Virginia.
Hampton is where the first slaves and freed Indigenous peoples were educated under the giant campus tree known as the Emancipation Oak. This is also where the Emancipation Proclamation was read aloud. It was here that the stories I read and learned connected me to who I was and where I came from. It ignited a passion in me to share these stories and more yet to be discovered and because of that, I enjoyed being in the theater department. I was drawn to it like a vocation. It was there that I discovered all my talents as an artist merged, and I found myself a costume designer on campus.
Create costumes for Black Panther was a complete moment of life for me, personally. I think back to when I discovered the sewing machine. This was not unique to our household; it was a common fixture in black family homes. It was a must-have, just like an iron. It connects me to my ancestors, who arrived in boatloads on these shores of Africa, vulnerable and naked, and had to learn how to make clothes. From picking cotton all day in the heat to sewing, cutting and dyeing, they made clothes for themselves to maintain their dignity. Some became craftsmen behind closed doors, never earning credit for creating such fashions for their owner, owner’s wife, or employer.
This sewing machine that I discovered was directly linked to this heritage. Being able to use the same skills my ancestors honed to survive in order to tell the stories that give names to the nameless, uplift us, and allow us to better understand each other has given me greater insight into a goal that I achieve every day .
Being recognized for designing costumes for black characters living in all their glory without knowing about colonization is a moment of closure for me as an artist. I cherish knowing that my ancestors led me here. Seeing Ryan Coogler’s vision through and adding my own signature to designing Afrofuturistic looks where people can find their own beauty represented is the greatest gift of my art. To give new generations the confidence that these characters carry by seeing a part of themselves on screen. With this power, I hope they will have the ability to live their purpose and manifest their own freedom in visioning their future.
Other notable essays include a stunning metaphorical analysis of vibranium by writer Tre Johnson and a deep dive into the film’s soundtrack by journalist Hannah Giorgis. Don’t miss your chance to read these thoughtful reviews and more when Marvel Studios’ Black Panther: Dreams of Wakanda arrives in bookstores on September 6, 2022.
Kelly Knox is a Seattle-area pop culture and entertainment writer. She is the author of Star Wars: Be More Obi-Wan and co-author of the upcoming Star Wars Everyday book. Follow her on Twitter at @kelly_knox to talk about Star Wars, pop culture and bad dad jokes.