Black Panther women not portraying stripper culture says costume designer Ruth E Carter

Black Panther posters

Lupita Nyong’o and Angela Bassett are two of Black Panther’s leading ladies (Marvel)

Marvel’s anticipated Black Panther will star some of the fiercest women in Hollywood – but don’t expect to see them running around scantily-clad like strippers.

Actresses Angela Bassett, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira and Letitia Wright will take centre stage in director Ryan Coogler’s anticipated blockbuster alongside Michael B Jordan and Chadwick Boseman.

Set in the fictional African nation of Wakanda, the characters these actresses portray are strong, empowering and independent – far from the stereotypically sexualised image often portrayed in Hollywood movies.

Needless to say, Black Panther’s costume designer Ruth E Carter had great responsibility in translating a positive message through their clothes.

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Addressing the portrayal of women in the Marvel movie, Carter told The Silhouette UK: “I did feel the pressure because when I joined the Marvel team, I had a lot to learn about the comics. I didn’t come from a strong comic book background, so I was torn between the fans and what their expectations might be and what we were creating.

“So those were my questions walking in the first day because I knew that the fan base was quite strong and I had lots of people – once they saw that I was the Black Panther costume designer – telling me all about this universe of Wakanda and the story.”

Carter, whose outstanding portfolio includes Malcolm X and Amistad, fortunately had a great working relationship with director Coogler, who shared her vision in how the Wakandan women should be presented to the audience.

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The twice Oscar-nominated designer explained: “It really wasn’t until I sat down with Ryan Coogler and I was told that we were creating something different and unique that I relaxed from that pressure. He was a great leader of this whole aesthetic because he was able to tell me when I was at a crossroads or when I felt pressure about not understanding which direction to go in, he was very willing to guide. He’s very articulate in that way.”

Crunch time came when Carter was designing the fighting suits for the Dora Milaje – a group of women in the Wakandan special forces – and Coogler had an epiphany of sorts.

Carter said: “Ryan said to me, the time that we’re in right now, we’re kind of in a culture that has accepted a lot of images of women that aren’t necessarily positive, ones like stripper culture. Because we’re in this time where women are being dressed and portrayed this way, we shouldn’t.”

The designer continued: “Because here is the Black Panther, this iconic figure in the Marvel universe and he’s basically this black cat walking around in a catsuit which is a power thing. And if we have his women protecting him in just a little sarong and a tiny top, what kind of imagery is that going to project? That’s not the imagery we’re trying to project with this, they have to be fully covered, they have to be functional ready for fighting. They have to have their vital organs protected in some kind of way.”

Sharing her reaction to Coogler’s strong sentiments, Carter added: “I was so excited to hear him say that as a young man who could have easily gone the other way in our culture right now but he didn’t. I literally jumped up from my chair and said, ‘Oh my God, you’re so right. I should have said that to you! I’m the female member of this group and you’re telling me that? I knew from that moment on that I was working with someone who understood the entire dynamic of what we were doing.”

Black Panther is set for release in the UK on 13th February.

The Silhouette UK’s full interview with Ruth E Carter, where she discusses the superhero movie in-depth, President Donald Trump, Oprah Winfrey’s empowering Golden Globes speech and what happened when she met Tina Turner, is coming soon!

Watch the Black Panther trailer:

Photos from the LA premiere of Black Panther (29/1/18):


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