'Black Panther' costume designer gives inside scoop on new Heinz History Center exhibit

Pittsburgh is a little closer to Wakanda, the home of superhero "Black Panther."

I visited the Heinz History Center to get a first look at the futuristic African costumes, worn by the actors and actresses in the blockbuster movie "Black Panther."

It’s all part of the center’s new exhibit, "Heroes and Sheroes: The Art and Influence of Ruth E. Carter in Black Cinema."

I talked with Carter, a Hollywood costume designer, who told me how she infused African tradition with modern technology in her designs.

“We examined all the different areas of Africa, and we decided that there are some things that we would use, like the queen’s crown is the Isicholo hat," Carter said. "We really wanted it to be perfectly round. In order to do that, you have to do it by computer, and we 3D-printed it, so that it is perfect in every way."

Carter said actress Lupita Nyong’o took some time getting used to her costume.

"We made grass shoes for Lupita," Carter said. "It was made up grass that was a little more prickly that we wanted it to be, but she came to set in her own sneakers on and she's like 'how do I wear the grass shoes,' and so on set I helped her into them. It was just one of those funny creative things that you do and people look at it and they scratch their head like, 'What the heck is this?'"


Carter has costumes from nine films of her career on display, all of which showcase black history and culture. She hopes Pittsburghers will take away stories from her costume design.

“When you look at the "Black Panther," maybe you are curious about who did the costumes and what else she did," Carter said. "So people go, I didn’t know she did 'Selma,' and I didn’t know she did 'Do the Right Thing,' and I didn’t know she did 'Black Dynamite.' Those are the things that I think are thrilling to me, and make me want to push forward and do more important work."

The exhibit, presented by Pittsburgh-based FashionAFRICANA, is open at the center through Dec. 2.