IMG Fetes Black Panther’s Unsung Queen
Odell Beckham Jr., Billy Porter and more joined in Ruth E. Carter’s well-earned applause.
Spike Lee’s 1988 comedy School Daze, an early and still-rare pop cultural representation of a historically black college, greeted a climate in which real-life black students were still in the thick of claiming the right to ownership of their own images; the yearbook page allegedly showing likely soon-to-be ex-Virginia governor Ralph Northam in racist garb had been published just four years earlier. Northam’s shocking and retrograde school days are a striking contrast to the parallel reality that, around the same time, Lee’s School Daze would launch the career of first-time costume designer Ruth E. Carter. Carter, now a third-time Academy Award nominee for her work on Black Panther, would become one of the most enduring engines for black representation in Hollywood—as a party in her honor thrown by IMG and Harlem Fashion Row last night demonstrated in high relief.
Surrounded by a mise-en-scène of costumes culled from films like Selma and Do the Right Thing, Carter reflected on the gradual social progress that her decades-long career represents. Of how her nod for Black Panther compares to that of awards seasons past, Carter recalls that her first nomination, for Lee’s Malcolm X biopic in 1993, was met with no such fanfare. “It’s special [this year] because not everyone had the enthusiasm for Malcolm X,” she says. “It seems like everybody has the enthusiasm for the Black Panther films, but I think all [these] films led us up to this point,” she says.
The celebration of Carter’s work also reflected long-coming strides by the fashion community in the fight for equal representation. Commissioned by President of IMG Models Ivan Bart, the display of original and re-fashioned garments was co-created by London-based stylist Ibrahim Kamara, who has shined a light on up-and-coming designers of color like Mowalola Ogunlesi and Asai (opting for a Fall 2019 Mowalola leather look last night).
The guest of honor sees the increasing breadth of black creators as a sign for better-late-than-never optimism: “We had to grow. We had to learn,” says Carter, who soon flies to Thailand for an upcoming project with longtime collaborator Lee. “So I think the time is now. It’s now!”