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Springfield’s Ruth E. Carter is first black costume designer to win Oscar

Ruth E. Carter accepts her Oscar for costume design for “Black Panther.”VALERIE MACON/AFP/Getty Images/AFP/Getty Images

Ruth E. Carter took home the Oscar for best costume design for her work on “Black Panther” at Sunday’s ceremony, becoming the first African-American to win the award.

For best picture-nominated superhero saga “Black Panther,” the veteran designer — who grew up in Springfield — was tasked with pioneering the textile vision of an Afrofuturist paradise, an ambitious assignment; she studied the vibrant garments of African tribes like the Maasai in order to carry it out.

“Marvel may have created the first black superhero, but we turned him into an African king,” said Carter, 58, calling the film’s director, Ryan Coogler, a “genius” and “guiding force.”


Carter accepted the honor in a brief but emotional speech that shouted out her mother and director Spike Lee (nominated for best drector for his work on “BlacKkKlansman”), whom she thanked “for my start.”

Lee hired Carter at the outset of her career for the 1988 film “School Daze.” From there, she went on to make a name for herself as a dynamic costume designer in Hollywood, creating memorable outfits for big-screen characters like Malcolm X, played by Denzel Washington in the same-named biopic; Cecil Gaines, played by Forest Whitaker in “Lee Daniels’ The Butler”; and Mookie, played by Lee, in his now-classic drama “Do the Right Thing.” She was previously Oscar-nominated for “Malcolm X,” becoming the first-ever black nominee in the category.

Carter said in her speech that her 97-year-old mother was watching from Massachusetts, expressing gratitude for the way in which she was raised.

“Thank you for teaching me about people and their stories,” she said, addressing her mother directly. “You are the original superhero.”

Earlier this week, on Tuesday, Carter was honored with a career achievement award at the 21st annual Costume Guild Awards, presented by Halle Berry and “Black Panther” actress Danai Gurira.


‘‘I am constantly inspired and carrying a message of perseverance and hope that each character shares from film to film,’’ she added at that ceremony. ‘‘There are pieces of me from my heart in each costume.’’

Isaac Feldberg can be reached by email at isaac.feldberg@globe.com, or on Twitter at @isaacfeldberg.