Afrofuturism in Hollywood: The Fashion of Ruth E. Carter | Culture DW

It’s the most commercially successful Afro-American future business to date: Marvel’s groundbreaking movie “Black Panther” was nominated for an Academy Award in seven categories in 2019 and ultimately won three Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Costume.

Ruth E. Carter was responsible for modern designs. The designer, who was born on April 10, 1960 in Springfield, Massachusetts, had already planned a completely different career: She wanted to be an actress. But when she was helping out with the costume department at the student theater company at Hampton University, she found a new vocation.

After graduating from college, she trained as a costume designer at the Santa Fe Opera in New Mexico and then moved to Los Angeles Film City. Ruth Carter has been modeling for American independent films and Hollywood films for more than forty years. The 61-year-old has worked with Steven Spielberg, Denzel Washington and Samuel L. Jackson and won an Academy Award for her lead costume in the Marvel blockbuster “Black Panther” (2018).

Fashion conveys a new image of Africa

The success of the Marvel world “Black Panther” also lives on from the embellishment of the main characters, whose robes can be seen in an exhibition at SCAD’s Fashion + Film Museum in Atlanta (USA) until September 2021. After months of researching African costumes and new 3D technology , Carter invented his own style: colorful, majestic, technically advanced. Carter purposefully styled futuristic afro fashions. For her, as she puts it in the exhibition catalog, Afrofuturism means: “Combining technology, imagination, and self-expression in order to advance a philosophy for black Americans, Africans, and indigenous people that allows them to have faith and creativity without the barriers of slavery and colonialism.”

Natalie Zatzick, a lecturer in American history and culture at the University of Manchester, explains in an interview with DW that this utopian trend in Afrofuturism is still relatively young. There are many different definitions of Afrofuturism, this phenomenon has been around for 25 years. It conveys a new picture of African history: “In recent times in particular, Afro-Futurism has always revolved around imagining a world in which the transatlantic slave trade does not exist, and no European colonization of the African continent has turned into societies, ask artists,” says Zacic. .

The future for Africans from Africa is different

Visions of the future differ from the United States from those on the African continent. African authors have been writing science fiction stories for decades, most of them classically set in space or in a futuristic mega city. In recent years, the climate crisis topic has also been added. The Contemplative African Imagination Society regularly awards NOMO Awards for best novel, best novel, best short story, and best graphic novel in the genre. “For artists in the USA and Great Britain, the diaspora experience is in the foreground because of the slave trade,” explains Natalie Zatzick. As a place of ancestors, Africa was an almost mythically charged place in the past. It’s different for African artists who live in Ghana or Nigeria, for example. “There, in science fiction, there are three things in the foreground: the city, space, and the future.”

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African filmmakers also dare to experiment with science fiction, such as Dilman Della or Jean-Pierre Piccolo. Often they can only dream about a budget Hollywood production. “The only film an African filmmaker can get comes from Europe,” the author wrote, “European producers often choose materials they think will be well liked at film festivals that deal with supposedly African themes such as AIDS, genocide, climate crisis and famine.” And director Delman Della in 2017 in the international science fiction and fantasy magazine “Mithila Review” when the science fiction movie “Her Broken Shadow” appeared, which aesthetically looked more like “Blade Runner”, which reminds us of the “black panther”. Della said commercial and even entertainment items will struggle to do so, and there is no way to finance the very expensive special effects.

Carter wants to activate a new perspective on Africa

Not so in Hollywood: The American movie “Black Panther” presents a utopia full of entertainment value, special effects and visually dazzling costumes. The movie is set in fictional Wakanda, an African country more technologically advanced than any other in the world because it has never experienced slavery and colonialism, and it seems to be doing it very well. “That’s what makes the black panther so attractive,” says Zatchk.

Ruth E. Carter standing on a colorful background.  She laughs widely, her arms lying in the air.

Fashion designer Ruth E. Carter debuts in December 2020 in the exhibition room of the SCAD FASH Fashion + Cinema Museum.

This is also reflected in Carter’s fashion, as Zacek primarily learns about influences from South and West Africa. Fashion combined African fashion traditions with ultra-modern technology, according to Zacchk. You don’t even have to watch the movie, she explains that the combination of technology and African-style fashion alone creates a futuristic Afro message.

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In contrast to films by African directors like Della Della or Jean-Pierre Piccolo, Ruth E. Carter’s costume design “Black Panther” has evolved into a worldwide success – and at least has proven to Hollywood that it is a movie in which hardly any white actors appear is that the box office can be beaten. the bell. Ruth E. Carter was the first African American woman to win an Academy Award.

Four black models wearing outfits from the movie Salma are borrowed from 1960s fashions, like an orange outfit with a high-waisted skirt.

These outfits from the movie “Salma” reflect US fashion in the 1960s.

According to Lazik, there is no exchange with Francophone or African speaking African cultures in an English-speaking African future. In her career as a fashion designer, Ruth E. Carter has also dealt primarily with the Afro-American experience, as the show in Atlanta demonstrates, where 60 drafts of her costumes can be viewed. Steven Spielberg commissioned her to design costumes for American slaves and slave owners in the 19th century. Spike Lee dressed up as an Afro-American hero, and even civil rights icon Martin Luther King in “Salma.” As for “Black Panther,” according to the exhibition catalog, she decided to initiate a radical change of perspective for the American audience: “I think people will now be able to contextualize and appreciate African art in a completely different way. We polished it and moved it to another place. “

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