As Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben once said, “With great power, comes great responsibility,” and if there’s one thing the world’s fiercest superheroes have in common with the first African American to win an Oscar for costume design — it’s mastering humility and power.  

From Black Panther to a quirky crew of Spike Lee characters to Malcolm X, one of history’s most controversial human rights activist, Ruth E. Carter, the woman behind many of the cinema world’s favorite characters, has transformed endless actors into fashionable storytellers.

And her most recent design worn by the Black Panther crusader in the highest-grossing solo superhero movie landed her the first-time Oscar award she always dreamed of.

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A post shared by Ruth E. Carter (@therealruthecarter) onSep 6, 2018 at 12:25pm PDT



A group of Florida students were given Carter’s keys to success on March 15 in Boca Raton when she gave them a glimpse into the passion and struggles of designing costumes in the film industry for nearly half a century.

And during her journey, she’s kept a crew of successful folks by her side like Academy Award winners Spike Lee, Denzel Washington, and Steven Spielberg.

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A post shared by Ruth E. Carter (@therealruthecarter) onFeb 5, 2019 at 11:08am PST



She’s held a spot in Hollywood as a popular costume designer for more than 40 years. What superpowers got her there — and kept her there? 

Learn as much as you can and zone in

“What you’re applying yourself to is what you’re going to grow from,” Carter told a crowd of Lynn University students and film enthusiasts who hung on her every word.

Focus. If you love doing something, stick with it. Carter didn’t make it to where she is today by tangling herself in too many endeavors.

When asked if she ever wanted to be anything else in life, her answer was an exuberant no. Besides driving an ice cream truck once in college, she’s always stuck to her love of costume design, which stems from her theater nerd roots.

It takes confidence and decisiveness to walk in your own light and pursue happiness. So what would a current gladiator of costume design say to her younger, up-and-coming self?

“I think what I would tell her and others is whatever you may be afraid of or feeling, keep pushing through it. Use your fear to dig deeper and study harder. Because on the other side of it is tomorrow. And tomorrow can be yours. Learn as much as you can,” Carter explained.  

When learning, don’t be afraid to bask in some alone time for optimum focus. Spending time “honing your craft” and “zoning in” is essential to learning and growing in your passions.

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A post shared by Ruth E. Carter (@therealruthecarter) onFeb 4, 2019 at 1:27pm PST



Don’t be basic

Carter once said, “It’s never acceptable to be basic,” in an interview with Paula S. Wallace, President and Founder of Savannah College of Art and Design.

We live in a world where the social media followers we have can influence our self-esteem — not to mention, living and breathing internet trends. It can be easy to get lost in the mainstream, the popular — the “basic.”

Stand out. Be bold. Pursue what makes you happy even if the path is less traveled.

Carter’s words of advice for staying true to yourself? Don’t lose your essence by getting wrapped up in absorbing too many opinions from people, she told the dozens of college students leaning into her every word. That’s the quickest way to lose who you are. 

Collaboration is key

To Carter, collaborating is the best part of her job. One of her greatest ongoing collaborations with award-winning director Spike Lee has produced more than ten iconic films across generations. Remember the outfits of ‘School Daze’ or 'B.A.P.S.'?

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A post shared by Ruth E. Carter (@therealruthecarter) onFeb 1, 2019 at 6:52pm PST

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A post shared by Ruth E. Carter (@therealruthecarter) onFeb 3, 2019 at 5:04pm PST



She attributes her latest immaculate 3-D blueprint costume creations on the Black Panther set to the art of collaboration. From the actors to set workers, Carter’s knowledge of the in’s and out’s of her crew was crucial to the Marvel film.

“Black Panther couldn’t have the look that it has without me understanding what was happening on set or me understanding what the [director of photography] wanted and especially what Ryan Coogler was looking for,” Carter said.

Understanding your role in the mix of other creatives is the way to create magic as a team. And for Carter, understanding her own role has always come easily.

She credits three things for putting her in the position to become the first African American to win an Oscar for costume design:

Concentrating on her craft Focusing on the culture Recreating the culture


The concentration, focus and re-creating have lead to decades of sleepless nights. But in the name of costume design, Carter endured. Why?

“I’ve always wanted to do the right thing,” she said.

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Laura Jazmin Tolliver is a digital reporter for GateHouse Media Group’s Florida team, based in West Palm Beach, Fla. Jaz’s stories, which run across digital, print and video platforms, are syndicated across the 22 Florida newspaper markets.