'Wakanda Forever' costume designer Ruth E. Carter on how clothes create a mood In the last 30 years, Ruth E. Carter has produced some of the most iconic looks in the Black film canon and beyond. She won an Academy Award for Black Panther and is now nominated for Wakanda Forever.

An Oscar-winning costume designer explains how clothes 'create a mood'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/1156555360/1156890894" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I am Terry Gross. Our guest, Ruth E. Carter, won an Oscar for best costume design for the film "Black Panther," which made her the first Black person to win an Oscar in that category. Now she's nominated for the sequel, "Wakanda Forever." This is Carter's fourth Oscar nomination, marking a 30-year career with more than 60 film and TV credits. She was responsible for the clothing aesthetic of several of Spike Lee's films including "Do The Right Thing" and "Malcolm X." Some of her other films include "The Butler," "Selma" and "Amistad." She even worked on the "Seinfeld" pilot. Carter spoke with our guest, interviewer Tonya Mosley, the host of the podcast Truth Be Told.

TONYA MOSLEY, BYLINE: Over the past 30 years, Ruth E. Carter has produced some of the most iconic looks in the Black film canon and beyond. She's known for conducting extensive research to create costumes that help bring characters, scenes and storylines to life. Her latest work, "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" starts with a funeral in the fictitious world of Wakanda. Beloved King T'Challa, played by Chadwick Boseman, has died. The actor passed away in real life from colon cancer in 2020 at the age of 43. In the movie, hundreds of mourners line the streets to watch the funeral procession.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER")

SOPE ALUKO: (As Sope the Shaman, non-English language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters, non-English language spoken).

ALUKO: (As Sope the Shaman, non-English language spoken).

MOSLEY: They're draped in white, each tribe distinguished by intricate beadwork, fur, turbans and other adornments. Carter's attention to detail and her mastery of historically accurate looks has earned her several awards including an Oscar and several Critics' Choice Awards and the Career Achievement Award from the Costume Designers Guild. Ruth E. Carter, welcome to FRESH AIR, and congrats on your latest Academy Award nomination.

RUTH E CARTER: Oh, thank you for having me. It's wonderful to be here.

MOSLEY: Were you a Marvel Universe fan - and that storyline - before taking on the "Black Panther" movies?

CARTER: I wasn't. I can't say that I really was. I really love movies, and I love Black history, and I love telling stories of people. And the history of, you know, Black America is something that I have been close to for a long time and really felt like that was, you know, my part in this whole filmmaking scenario. And that's what I really enjoyed, you know, when I did "Malcolm X" in telling his story. I really love the research process and doing that. So once Marvel came into my world, I really wasn't even sure about, you know, how what I did and what I loved would actually affect this type of genre until I met Ryan Coogler and was introduced to the world of Wakanda.

MOSLEY: You had a lot to consider entering this Marvel Universe. There's the original comic book series coupled with conceptualizing what people from a fictional African nation that's never been colonized might wear. And this meant digging into the history and culture of real African nations. You were basically creating magical realism. But were you ever concerned about the blending of so many African cultures?

CARTER: Of course. I think where we went wrong for so long was that we thought of Africa as one monolithic place - one look and one way of thinking about Africa. And when we got together on the first "Black Panther," we were sure that we were going to dissect the tribes and use some of the traditional practices of, you know, creating some of these costumes to make them feel more authentic to each region around the continent.

I mean, there's thousands of tribes throughout the continent of Africa, and we picked eight or 12 of them to represent the tribes of Wakanda. And so it was very important that we, you know, show the delineation and also if we were to blend a few traditional custom Indigenous looks, that we were intentional with it. So, like, with the Dora Milaje, you can travel around the whole continent of Africa in the one costume. You know, there's the Turkana Beads and the Himba leather and the Masai color and the Ndebele rings. And there are other forms of that as well.

MOSLEY: Creating a world that has never experienced colonization, how did you - I guess for lack of a better term, how did you decolonize your own mind to come up with the concepts along with the research? Was there a process you personally had to go through?

CARTER: I did. Because when we started this out on B.P. 1, many people didn't really have a reference for what royalty in Africa looked like. And all we had really was, you know, "Coming To America" or "The Lion King." And those are great projects, great film. But I knew we were doing something different. And so it was important that I have a road map for all to see, for all to study in the office, where we created lots of mood boards that showed you the different Indigenous tribes and what that look like, what modernization would look like, what technology would look like. There was also, you know, a wonderful document that Hannah Beachler, the production designer, put together that we used like a bible when we wanted to look up, you know, the business district of Wakanda. There was text and some images of, you know, what it was and, you know, what it meant.

MOSLEY: A Wakanda bible.

CARTER: Yeah, it was. And it took you all over Wakanda. There's, like, a school district, a merchant district. And we also did our boards off of that inspiration and visually expounded on it so that, you know, everyone could see that was working with me - from whatever point of view you came from, you could learn about what we were doing right there in the office.

MOSLEY: When did you know that you were on the right track?

CARTER: I really felt that we were doing something special. And I knew when something didn't look right. It really - I had a visceral reaction.

MOSLEY: Is there an example of that?

CARTER: Yes, I think the Dora Milaje - that's the female - the highest-ranking female fighting force of Wakanda. And they protect the king. They protect the Black Panther. They wear a costume that was conceptualized by Anthony Francisco of the Marvel design group and then materialized in my shop. And it was very important that the materials not create a costume that looked too much like a costume. We really wanted it to be taken seriously. We didn't want it to be oversexualized like the comics sometimes paint female warriors. We wanted them to be flat on the ground in martial arts boots. We wanted them not to be in cheerleader skirts and triangle tops - their bodies protected.

And also, in the making of it, it needed to honor the female form. So there's a harness that we created out of leather and in the spirit of the Himba tribe in that this you know, leather - brown leather harness travels around the female form and honors it - you know, honors the bust and the waist. It ends in a back skirt that we studded and put little rings on the edges, just as the Himba women do as they stretch the calf leather and make these wonderful leather skirts that they also stud and put little rings on.

And Ryan Coogler, the director, wanted the Dora Milaje to be heard before they were even seen. And the little rings emitted this, like, lovely sound, you know? Even though they were deadly, they - you could hear them before you saw them. So you can easily discount how important those things are in creating this costume. But when you do, you end up with something that doesn't have the same meaning and doesn't have the same impact that it does when you go to that place of authenticity and intention.

MOSLEY: Let's take a quick break. If you're just joining us, I'm talking with Ruth E. Carter, a costume designer for film and television with more than 40 films to her credit, including many of Spike Lee's earliest films - "Do The Right Thing" and "School Daze," among others. She was nominated for an Academy Award for her work in "Amistad" and "Malcolm X." She won an Oscar for best costume design for the "Black Panther" and is nominated again this year for the sequel, "Wakanda Forever." We'll be right back after the break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF LUDWIG GORANSSON'S "WAKANDA FOREVER")

MOSLEY: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Tonya Mosley. And today, I'm talking with Ruth E. Carter, an award-winning costume designer, nominated this year for an Oscar for best costume design for the "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever."

You were already in the process of making "Wakanda Forever" when Chadwick Boseman passed away from colon cancer. This was during the height of the pandemic, as well. And you weren't sure if the movie would continue. How did you and the crew handle that time period as you waited for director Ryan Coogler and writer Joe Robert Cole to rewrite the film?

CARTER: Well, when I heard the news that our friend and our brother had passed, it was quite a shock. And we gave each other space to mourn. And I wondered what would happen and wasn't sure, like, if we would even be able to do another "Black Panther" film. I didn't personally feel like it was possible and certainly didn't want to ask because it was so sensitive and unimaginable and shocking and sad.

MOSLEY: Very sad. What Ryan Coogler was able to come up with, though, honors Chadwick in such a profound way, and T'Challa. From the opening scene of "Wakanda Forever," Coogler and Cole wanted to incorporate the loss and bravery of Black Panther, and so they wanted an all-white funeral - not off-white, pure white - to adhere to the West African traditional funeral garb. These funeral garments play a role of significance throughout the film. Was the throughline of burning the clothing to mark a new beginning always a vision or did you all work together to build on what you learned from your research?

CARTER: Oh, this was brought to us with our collaborations with the historians. And Ryan offered this as part of the telling of the story. I'd never - I never knew about it before then, and it's part of the - a big part of the story because we do see this white funeral and we see two - we see a smaller funeral amongst the tribal elders where they then carry the casket through the procession, where there's a bigger celebration of life. And all of the tribes of Africa within this West African ceremony come together, unifies Africa to say goodbye to this great king. And then the end of the mourning period is done by burning the funeral garments. And it's just a beautiful journey of tradition that I think honored Chadwick in this film.

MOSLEY: Were you on set during the filming of those scenes?

CARTER: Oh, yeah, of course. I'm on set a lot, especially in times like that, when there's several costumes and there's a lot of work to getting it ready for camera. You know, I do have a big crew that's around doing all kinds of stuff. And, of course, I, you know, see things that I want to tweak that are, you know, particularly precious to me or I want to make sure they're seen in the right way. And our wonderful cast is all adorned. It's a special time. They're wearing white. And so it's important that they, you know, not travel in, you know, passenger vans through - I think it was, like, muddy and rainy when - during the time of that filming. And so I had them erect tents where we laid a - some roadwork, and they were able to walk across this clean area after they were dressed in the tents and arrived on set. So there's a lot of coordination in that way that I have to oversee.

MOSLEY: What was it like to come together in that moment? Was it as powerful on set during the filming of it as it was for us to watch it?

CARTER: It was more powerful on set to watch that funeral scene because, you know, we had so much work to get prepared for that. I had dancers and all the different tribes. I had drummers that would be up on top of the roof by the beautiful mural of Chadwick. And it was once everyone was together and dressed and ready and in line that it hit you that this was to honor Chadwick. And it was magnificent.

MOSLEY: I want to go back with you to the beginning of your costume design career. And I want to start with Spike Lee. You and Spike have worked together on close to a dozen films starting in 1988 with "School Daze," his second film. When you two met, you were doing costume design for a local theater show in Los Angeles, and you weren't even considering film as an option. What was it about a young Spike Lee's vision that captured your attention?

CARTER: I felt like I had been trained after I graduated from Hampton University in Virginia. And I went on to do internships in theater and opera, and I drove my little Volkswagen Rabbit across country to Los Angeles, where I was going to pursue theater, which - it - there was less theater here than there was film. And when I was approached to work with Spike, he invited me to see "She's Gotta Have It." It hadn't gone to the Cannes Film Festival. He was screening it around Los Angeles. And I kept missing the date. And he would send me a little postcard saying, you know, what up? You know, missed you at the screening. And I'd go, darn it, you know, 'cause I was working in theater, you know, through the night.

You know, I would work in the costume shop during the day. And then, I was a part of the running crew for the theaters' plays in the evening. And I really enjoyed it 'cause I enjoyed hanging out with the actors and, you know, the whole process, the whole magic of theater. I really did love it. And so I finally did get to a screening, and I remember seeing Nola Darling walking down the street in Fulton Mall in Brooklyn. And I thought to myself, here I had been doing "Vanya" and Shakespeare and "The English Cat" and opera, and this seems so small.

I soon found out it was anything but small, that I had to learn how to look at things in close-up and in detail and tell the story in a different way through film. But "School Daze" came, and it was a perfect first film for me because it was a bit theatrical and it did deal with a story that I knew, which was the HBCU experience.

MOSLEY: So Spike called you up and said, hey, I want you to costume design for "School Daze." You were in theater, so you had never designed for film, but you said yes. And you went to your brother Robert, who's also an artist, for advice on how to get started. And what did he tell you?

CARTER: Oh, it was a great time. My brother invited me to his studio in New Hampshire, where he lived. He worked for IBM during the day, but he's a great painter. He's always been a great painter. And so he had a big studio in the basement of his house. And I had the script with me. He had an IBM computer next to his big drafting table. And he said, first, you've got to, you know, learn how to do a budget for all these characters, you know? And he sat me at his computer, and we figured out how to present a budget.

And then, I began to sketch all the characters that we listed. And one of the things he told me was, you know, get those ideas out of your head. Create a series of folders with all your characters' names on them, and every time you get an idea, you know, either write it down or if you see something in a magazine, tear it out. Whatever it is, populate your folders with your ideas so you can open your mind to receiving more new, fresh ones. That was one of the things he was telling me as - in between me making him a rum and coke, you know? And he'd sit in his big chair while I sat at his drafting table and sketched.

And after I had all of my sketches done, I called Spike, who was in New York, in Brooklyn. And Spike invited me to his apartment to show him all of the costumes. And so I got directions from Spike to his house, which was, you know, take the A train, get in the back of the train, switch to the No. 2, you know, get off at this stop. And I did everything he told me. And I ended up in his little basement apartment in Brooklyn, and I had a whole display in front of him of the costume design for "School Daze."

GROSS: That's Ruth E. Carter speaking with our guest interviewer, Tonya Mosley. Carter won an Academy Award for costume design for "Black Panther" and is nominated for the sequel, "Wakanda Forever." She'll talk more about working with Spike Lee after a break. I am Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE NATURAL SPIRITUAL ORCHESTRA'S "WE LOVE ROLL CALL Y-ALL")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with more of our interview with costume designer Ruth E. Carter. She won an Academy Award for costume design for "Black Panther" and is nominated for the sequel, "Wakanda Forever." This is Carter's fourth Oscar nomination. She started as a costume designer for theater but went on to work on film and TV. She's responsible for the clothing aesthetic of several of Spike Lee's films, including "School Daze," "Do The Right Thing" and "Malcolm X." She spoke to our guest interviewer, Tonya Mosley, host of the podcast Truth Be Told. When we left off, they were talking about Carter getting her start in film working on Spike Lee's "School Daze."

MOSLEY: I have to ask you about a particular scene from "School Daze." You mentioned that you went to Hampton University, which is a historically Black college. And "School Daze" is a story about undergrads in a fraternity and sorority at a historically Black college clashing with each other over a homecoming weekend. And this film takes on all types of subjects - elitism, classism, colorism. Let's listen to a scene where the Jigaboos, who are dark-skinned Black women, and the Wannabes, light-skinned Black women, have a song battle over their hair.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SCHOOL DAZE")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Re-Re, open up.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters, singing) Talking about good and bad hair whether you're dark or you're fair. So you can go on and swear. See if I care. Good and bad hair.

TISHA CAMPBELL: (As Jane Toussaint, singing) Don't you wish you had hair like this? Then, the boys would give you a kiss. Talk about nothing but bliss. Then, you're going to see what you missed.

KYME: (As Rachel Meadows, singing) If a fly should land on your head, then I'm sure he'd break all his legs 'cause you got so much grease up there. Dear, is that a weave that you wear?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters) Ooh.

(As Wannabes, singing) Well, you got chocka-bugs (ph) standing all over your head.

(As Jigaboos, singing) Well, you got sandy spurs - rather have mine instead.

(As Wannabes, singing) You're just a Jigaboo, trying to find something to do.

(As Jigaboos, singing) Well, you're a Wannabe - want to be better than me.

MOSLEY: That is a scene from the movie "School Daze." Ruth, can you describe what the Jigaboos and the Wannabes are wearing?

CARTER: Well, you know, Spike, who was a big-time sports aficionado, wanted them to be in hockey jerseys. And so I went to a company that specialized in custom hockey jerseys, and I got the Jigaboos a red and purple and white hockey jersey with a small J that was printed on the front, you know, with a big dot on the top of the small J. And the Wannabes are in a silver, black and white hockey jersey with a capital W on the front of their jersey. They're all in jazz tights and jazz boots corresponding with the colors that they are wearing and little cropped tops. They're cute.

MOSLEY: They are etched in my mind - my little 13-year-old mind. But color plays such a significant role in us understanding characters. And of course, with fraternities and sororities, colors play a huge part. What went into making these color choices?

CARTER: Well, you know, Spike wanted the Gammas - the Gamma Phi Gamma, the fraternity in the movie, to be the silver and black. And the girls had to form, like, the Gammites - the girlfriends of the Gammas, they also were representing that fraternity as a sorority in the same colors. The Jigaboos, who were anti-sorority, they are wearing brights. They are wearing Africa colors. They are, you know, about back-to-Africa. They are about Divest Now. So it was important that we kept the colors of the African diaspora, you know, alive and vibrant for them as a group. They consider themselves activists, and they were very anti-fraternity/sorority.

MOSLEY: Spike Lee's 1989 film, "Do The Right Thing," takes place on the hottest day of the year in the Bed-Stuy neighborhood of Brooklyn. And Spike Lee has said that he wanted the look to be bright, almost blinding, Afrocentric bright. Was that enough to get you to understand his request right away? What was the process of getting there?

CARTER: Well, we were an independent film. We were low budget. We had to make it work with product placement. So Nike was a big factor in they gave us so many sneakers and compression shorts and tank tops and stuff like that. But it was all very saturated color, and we were representing the hottest day of the year. We were representing a neighborhood in Bed-Stuy that I actually lived in while we were shooting. And I didn't see that same vibrancy every day. I did see color, of course. You know, Brooklyn is the epitome of the African diaspora, where you see geles and women from Africa in their traditional garb. I think that's probably the first place I've - I experienced it as a kid going to New York, seeing it, you know, in Brooklyn or in Harlem. But because I had to balance what I was given from these, you know, athletic companies with our Bed-Stuy, I had to be clever in that the African fabrics balanced out the athletic fabrics.

So we made a lot of crop tops and shorts and, you know, Ankara fabrics. And it did create this vibrant tableau of this neighborhood. And also, the saturation of color created, like, the heat of the night, the heat of the day; and also, that the protest was amongst the youth in the neighborhood. And when you think of "Do The Right Thing," you really do think of a neighborhood that's vibrant and thriving. And you can see the colors of the neighborhood.

And I feel like it was really important to show that unification. When you see Buggin Out in his kente shorts and his bright yellow top, you know he's representing his culture, you know, and he's asking Sal, who is in the pizzeria, and, you know, it does feel very Italian. We had heavy green and we had John Turturro in, like, a tank top. And we were constantly, like, sweating them up to show the heat. So it was a vibrant, surrealistic protest film. And I think that's why it's standing the test of time, because it still feels and looks relevant, especially the storyline.

MOSLEY: How did you sweat up John Turturro in "Do The Right Thing"?

CARTER: Well, Spike was always yelling out for sweat, you know, because he wanted to really show how hot this summer was. And John wanted to wear, you know, the sleeveless tank. And we just had glycerin and water in a spray bottle. And we were responsible for sweating up his garment and then makeup sweated his face and arms. But it was a constant process, even when it got late in the summer, and the weather was changing, and it actually got cold, and we were shooting some of those same scenes. And so the actors were like, you know, don't come near me with that water bottle. So it was tough getting through the whole summer.

MOSLEY: These films - "School Daze," "Do The Right Thing" - were the beginning of a long journey working with Spike Lee. Do you think your career and his career would have been the same without each other?

CARTER: I often thought that Spike and I both cared about our community deeply. We cared about our history deeply. You know, there's such a shorthand that happens when you are speaking with someone who laughs, you know, at what you laugh at, who understands what they're looking at when you show them your ideas. There's a wonderful connection to culture and to the desire to show our community and represent each other in a way that we have experienced but we haven't seen. And so as far as our careers, you know, having a companionship in that way that we enhanced each other, I don't think that I would be the same filmmaker without the experiences that I had with Spike, and that run of films shaped who I am today. I don't know what it did for Spike, but I know what it did for me.

MOSLEY: We have to ask him. He's got to speak on this at some point.

CARTER: (Laughter).

MOSLEY: He probably has already. Let's take a quick break. If you're just joining us, I'm talking with Ruth Carter, a costume designer for film and television with more than 40 films to her credit, including many of Spike Lee's earliest films. She was nominated for an Academy Award for her work in "Amistad" and "Malcolm X," and she won an Oscar for best costume design for the "Black Panther" and is nominated again this year for the sequel, "Wakanda Forever." We'll be right back after this break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF LUDWIG GORANSSON'S "T'CHALLA")

MOSLEY: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Tonya Mosley, and today I'm talking with Ruth E. Carter, an award-winning costume designer, nominated this year for an Oscar for best costume design for the "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever." Carter is also the costume designer for Marvel's upcoming "Blade" reboot.

You know, so much of your life, you've had experiences that have led you to other experiences in such a fluid way. I mean, while you were in college, you were a street performer for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation Living History program, which essentially...

CARTER: I was.

MOSLEY: You were giving history. This was something that you were already a part of and understanding, and this would help you in your later work. And then you had an internship, as you mentioned earlier, at the Santa Fe Opera in New Mexico, which gave you that grounding in theater. All of this experience then really helped you as you started to move into period pieces. You've done 16 period films, and your first was the 1992 film "Malcolm X." You constructed five periods of Malcolm's life based on the autobiography as told to Alex Haley. At that time, this was contemporary history. Malcolm X had only been assassinated 27 years before. What were some of the ways that you prepared yourself for creating that time period?

CARTER: Well, the first thing that I wanted to do was to understand the man so I could build his life in costumes. And I knew that he had been incarcerated in Massachusetts. And so I started a letter-writing campaign to the Department of Corrections in Massachusetts asking to view his files. And I was given a date that I was to report to the big building in Boston. And they were ready. They had pulled his files out of their archives, and they were waiting for me in a cubicle at an empty desk for me to spend time with.

And I couldn't believe my eyes. I saw his original letters that he wrote to the commissioner asking to be transferred to another facility that had a bigger, better library. I saw his booking photos, and I saw his penmanship, and I felt really close to the person who had, you know, written by hand and touched this paper, you know, these letters. And I also went to the university where the late Dr. Betty Shabazz taught, and I spoke with her face to face about her life and what she wore and about him. And so I felt like I could make those decisions confidently about what he might have worn in those times where he wasn't photographed, where he was at home with his family or where he was preparing for one of his great speeches.

MOSLEY: This film comes up for you often. Directors, producers, when they meet you, it's one of the first films they say to you, I really love that work there. It was a very important flash point in your career.

CARTER: Yes. When I was asked to go in to meet Steven Spielberg and interview for "Amistad", there was no script. I actually went and found some writings on the Amistad story. And I sat in Amblin's offices at a conference table, and there were only two chairs across from each other. I sat in one, and I waited for Steven to come off the set of "Jurassic Park" during lunch. And I remember he sat down, and someone brought him his lunch and he was like, no, no, no, not now. He was interested in speaking to me.

And I was - it was just like being someplace where you imagine you would never be, in front of a great filmmaker and, you know, representing yourself as a costume designer. And he sat there, and he said, I really loved your work in "Malcolm X." And I was really proud of that. He gave me the script, and after some discussion, he said, take it home, give it a read and let me know, you know, in the next couple of days if you want to work with me on this. And I thought, you know, I could call him from the parking lot and tell him I want to work with him on this.

MOSLEY: Right in that moment, yes.

CARTER: Right in that moment, yes. But I, you know, wanted to read the script, and I took it home.

MOSLEY: You've worked on so many films. I mean, we'd be well past our time if I asked you about each and every one. I'd love to do with you a quick round just the first thoughts that come to your mind when you hear them. And I want to start with "Seinfeld," the pilot.

CARTER: (Laughter) Jerry, and he is so neat. He was so organized and methodical. And I remember his apartment, how it was so well-appointed. And his closet was impeccable. I almost couldn't pick anything out for him to wear on the pilot because he - you know, it was this low-budget thing, and he was going to wear his own stuff. And he invited me over to pick some stuff out of his closet. And I was, like, scared, but I did. And I was like, wow, that was so totally cool that, you know, I experienced that.

MOSLEY: Next, the 1988 comedy "I'm Going To Git You Sucka," where a fly guy, played by Antonio Fargas, gets out of prison after a long sentence and pulls out his old clothes, which include platform heels with a goldfish inside of them. OK. Please, quickly, tell me how you found those shoes.

CARTER: We made those shoes, those goldfish shoes. There was a football player, and he had platform shoes in the '70s with goldfish in them. And it was written in the script, and I couldn't wait to make those shoes. But they were like aquariums, you know, and they were very hard to walk in. So we had to make a pair that he could actually walk in and then a pair that he could break and the water and the fish come tumbling out.

MOSLEY: Did you ever experience folks seeing this in the movie theater? Because it is a core memory for me of that scene and the entire theater just roaring laughing. It was like people couldn't contain themselves.

CARTER: Yes, I remember that in the theaters. It's funny, when you are working on a movie, you're looking at different things than the audience. It's unfortunate. You know, I actually don't see the film like the audience might for a long, long time.

MOSLEY: Ruth E. Carter, thank you so much for this conversation.

CARTER: Thank you.

GROSS: Ruth E. Carter is nominated for an Academy Award in the category best costume design for the "Black Panther" sequel, "Wakanda Forever." Her book, "The Art Of Ruth E. Carter," which includes her thoughts about and illustrations from her films, will be published in May. She spoke with our guest interviewer Tonya Mosley, host of the podcast Truth Be Told. You can see some of Ruth Carter's sketches on our website, freshair.npr.org. Coming up, book critic Maureen Corrigan reviews "On Writing And Failure," in which the author, Stephen Marche, warns in a humorous way that a writer needs to get used to failing over and over again. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

Copyright © 2023 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.