It is true that Costume Design is undoubtedly the field best known for being dominated by a woman that isn’t one of the acting categories—the category started in 1948, and Edith Head was already nominated. The first year she wasn’t was 1967. Probably it has more female nominees and more female winners than any category not, as I said, the acting categories. On the other hand, to be a black woman with three nominations in the category is impressive enough, and that’s before you consider that she has been nominated for a Spike Lee movie, a Steven Spielberg movie, and a superhero movie—three types of movies not historically the Academy’s best-liked.
And, okay, she lost to Titanic, and she lost to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and the cynic in me says that we’ll see tonight who she’ll lose to now. But I was astounded when the nomination list came out this year and she was on it, since Costume Design was one of the categories I was saying Black Panther deserved to be nominated in and wouldn’t be. She actually traveled to southern Africa for inspiration and apparently got permission (I don’t know from whom) to incorporate traditional Lesotho designs into the costumes. The clothing aesthetic of Black Panther is one of the things talked about most, and I feel not enough people know the name of the woman who created it.
There was a conversation in the Dissolve Facebook group recently about how well-costumed Spike Lee movies are, and that’s certainly true. But to give Spike Lee himself credit for them is to miss that the way he does it is by hiring Carter. Their association goes back to School Daze. And while goodness knows I support hiring talented people and admire anyone who knows to do that, it’s still Carter doing the actual designs. Everyone in a Carter-costumed movie looks like they’re wearing the right clothing for who and what they are, and the designs themselves are usually impressive.
Beyond Lee, she’s worked for an impressive array of directors. Spielberg once, on Amistad. John Singleton several times. Ava DuVernay, on Selma. Lee Daniels. Robert Townsend several times. She even did the costumes for Serenity—the Joss Whedon space cowboys one, not whatever the new one is supposed to be. It strikes me that, with few exceptions, she’s done the costumes for movies with either black themes or predominantly black casts or both, and I’m a little curious about whether that’s her choice or what, but if it is? So what? She’s good at what she does, and if she wants to make movies directed by black directors look great, there’s nothing wrong with that.
Also, she designed the pimp costume for I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, and I’m always going to love her for that. Since it’s in my opinion the best part of that iffy movie. I’d like her to win tonight, and not just because I’d like the Academy to acknowledge that there’s more than one kind of complicated costume work. (Okay, so the main reason I want to see Mary Queen of Scots is the costumes; that doesn’t mean I want it to win.) She’s an incredibly talented woman who legitimately did some of the best costumes of the year. Also, she made fishtank shoes for Antonio Fargas. What’s not to love?