You’ve heard bold claims like “you’ll never watch ___ the same way again!” accompanying most in-depth looks at your favorite movies. Marvel Studios’ Black Panther: Dreams of Wakanda is one of the rare books that absolutely delivers on that promise. It’s not an exaggeration to say Dreams of Wakanda will forever change what it means to you the next time you hear, “Wakanda forever!”
The compelling 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 remarkable pieces pull their punches. Each one 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 Academy Award in 2019 for her work on the landmark Marvel Studios film. You can read an excerpt of her incredible essay below.
Excerpt from essay titled “Afrofuturistic Beauty” by Ruth E. Carter
We made over a thousand costumes with five concept artists, three assistant costume designers, specialty costume companies, agers/dyers, mold makers, set costumers, and jewelry craftspeople to honor the beauty and history of Africa and the Dinka, Dogon, Himba, Lesotho, Maasai, Ndebele, Suri, Surma, Tuareg, Turkana, Wagenya, and Zulu peoples. The final product is Wakandan Afrofuturistic looks that have expanded our vision of beauty.
My life’s passion and work is about telling diverse stories through costume design. Before a word of dialogue is uttered, costumes begin to tell the story of a character—who they are and where they have been. It is a visual narrative using fabrics, colors, and patterns that bring to life characters, whether they are real, historical, or imaginative.
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 entertain me. My brother was the artist, and I was incredibly inspired to be like him. I spent hours in my room at my desk being creative, whether it was drawing, coloring, or reading poetry and literature. One afternoon, I serendipitously discovered a sewing machine tucked inside the desk. My creative playground expanded. With the most modest of beginnings, this girl who knew how to dream, and pursue that dream by any means necessary, began building her love for creating art.
I nurtured my artistic curiosity over the years, and it led me to follow my family legacy at Hampton University, a historically Black college on the shores of Virginia.
Hampton is where the first freed enslaved persons and indigenous people were educated under the giant tree on campus, known as the Emancipation Oak. It 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 lit up in me a passion to share these and other stories yet to be discovered and because of it, I enjoyed being in the theater department. I was drawn to it like a calling. This is where I discovered all my talents as an artist merged, and I found myself the costume designer on campus.
Coming up with the costumes for Black Panther was a full-circle life moment for me, personally. I think back to the moment I discovered the sewing machine. It was not unique to just our household; this was a common appliance in Black family homes. It was a staple, just like an iron. It connects me to my ancestors, who arrived in shiploads on these shores from Africa, vulnerable and naked, and had to learn to make clothes. From picking cotton all day in the heat to sewing, cutting, and dyeing, they were making clothes for themselves to maintain their dignity. Some became artisans behind closed doors, never earning the credit for creating such couture fashions for their owner, owner’s wife, or employer.
That sewing machine I discovered was a direct connection to this legacy. To be able to use the same skills that my ancestors perfected to survive in order to tell the stories that give names to the nameless, elevate us, and allow us to understand ourselves better, has given me more understanding of a purpose I achieve every day.
To be recognized for designing costumes for Black characters living in all their glory without knowing colonization is a full-circle moment 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. Giving new generations the confidence these characters carry by seeing a part of themselves on-screen. With that power, I hope they have the ability to live their purpose and manifest their own freedom in the vision of their futures.
Other standout essays include a stunning metaphorical analysis of vibranium from writer Tre Johnson and a deep-dive into the film’s soundtrack from journalist Hannah Giorgis. Don’t miss your chance to read these thoughtful analyses and more when Marvel Studios’ Black Panther: Dreams of Wakanda comes to bookstores on September 6, 2022.
Kelly Knox is a pop culture and entertainment writer in the Seattle area. She’s the author of Star Wars: Be More Obi-Wan and a co-author on the upcoming book Star Wars Everyday. Follow her on Twitter at @kelly_knox to talk Star Wars, pop culture, and bad dad jokes.