‘Malcolm X’ Costume Designer Recalls Start

Black Academy Awards Series: Ruth Carter cut her teeth on School Daze and just wrapped an Oprah film.

Ruth Carter and Oprah Winfrey on the set of The Butler (Instagram)

RC: What was helpful was that we were a family. So yes, everybody was learning. But some people had already done movies before, so it’s all relative. If you’re young and your comrade next to you is the same age but they’ve done a movie before, you look to them for advice. And you don’t need to have a whole lot of experience; you just need to have done it once.

We looked up to Laurence Fishburne and admired him, and he was a great friend to Spike. And I remembered, I would see Fish, as we called him, driving through Brooklyn in his long Cadillac-like-looking car — I don’t know what it was — but he would have all four windows rolled down, seat way back.

It was more or less that everybody knew each other in a different way than [as] stars and department heads and that kind of stuff. We supported each other. Then, there weren’t a whole lot of people who really knew about the film profession in terms of all the different things you could do, like sound and editing.

TR: When you were working on Malcolm X, did you think there was a possibility that you could be nominated for an Oscar?

RC: When Spike got the movie Malcolm X and he called and told me about it, one of the first things he said was, “Don’t think about winning an Oscar or an Academy Award or anything like that. Don’t think about that. Just do a good job.” And after he said that, I did not think about it at all. And that’s the honest-to-God truth.

The morning the nominations came out, Russell Williams, the sound mixer, called me and said, “You did it, sweetheart; you did it!” And I said, “Did what?” And he said, “You got a nomination.” And I was like, “Wow.”

I was shooting What’s Love Got to Do With It at that time, and once I got to set, I kept thinking about this thing that had just happened, and was like, “Wow, what does that mean exactly?” And one of the producers, Doug Chapin, was walking by my trailer, and I said, “Hey Doug, come here; I have to tell you something. I got nominated this morning, but don’t tell anybody.” And he looked at me and he walked away. And when I went to set 45 minutes later, everybody stood up in applause.

Previously in the Black Academy Awards Series: Lee Daniels Thanks God for Spike Lee.

Aisha I. Jefferson is a frequent contributor to The Root. You can follow her on Twitter or visit her at aishaiman.com.

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