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How African Fashion Has Conquered Film

A new exhibit at SCAD’s Fash Museum surveys the illustrious career of costumer designer, Ruth Carter. For some 40 years, she has worked to elevate African fashion in Hollywood films, culminating in her Oscar winning work on ‘Black Panther.’ The costumes now form the centerpiece of an exhibition entitled “Ruth E. Carter – Afrofuturism in Costume Design” at the SCAD Museum of Fashion + Film in Atlanta. Carter has 40 years as a Hollywood costume designer under her belt. Back in 1989, she designed the costumes for Spike Lee’s film “Do the Right Thing.” Her brief from Lee was to make the costumes garish: “Bright … blinding AFROCENTRIC bright!” were the instructions. The 1976 novel “Roots” by Alex Haley was adapted into a TV series a year later. It tells the tale of Kunta Kinte, who was abducted from Africa and brought to America as a slave. For the remake, Carter designed the costumes of several generations of both slaves and plantation owners. She received an Emmy nomination for her designs. In the film “Malcolm X,” Denzel Washington played the controversial character of Malcolm Little, who gave up his last name after a stint in prison and replaced it with an X to symbolize his African ancestry. True to form, Carter devoted herself to extensive research, even gaining access to Little’s prison records to get closer to the character. Her efforts earned her an Oscar nomination.