Black Panther and Dolemite is My Name costume designer Ruth E. Carter received the inaugural NAACP Image Awards Vanguard Award for Costume Design on Friday, at a “Colors Behind the Look: A Celebration of Fashion, Costume Design and Glam” event coinciding with the week-long awards program.
For the Image Awards’ many categories — this year spanning five nights of non-televised ceremonies leading up to the live show on Saturday — costume design had not previously been recognized.
“My heart is so warm and so open to this honor of opening up this category. I used to always wonder why the NAACP Image Awards weren’t bringing us from behind the camera to in front of the camera,” Carter said during her speech at the event, which took place surrounding the pool of the Hollywood Roosevelt. “We actually are working it out for the actors behind closed doors, we are image makers. We are image makers and we are a force to be reckoned with.”
Speaking to the crowd following a private luncheon, she acknowledged standing “on the shoulders of many, many people who have become before us of color who have dressed presidents, who have dressed abolitions, and who have dressed all that NAACP stands for. Those women didn’t dare to call themselves costume designers but they were.”
And Carter, who in 2019 became the first Black woman to win an Oscar for costume design with Black Panther, added that “to introduce this category of costume design is actually honoring a legacy, a legacy of people who were instrumental in designing our Afrofuture. [Black Panther‘s all-female military group] The Dora Milaje are the highest ranking female fighting force in Wakanda and they are not sexualized — we dressed them to have empowered clothing, we dressed them to have their bodies fully clothed, we dressed them for you to take them seriously because they protected the king of Wakanda. So these women are protecting the king and the NAACP.”
Following her speech, the NAACP officially announced that two new competitive categories — costume design and hair and make-up — will be added to next year’s award show. Along with her honor, Carter’s work is being highlighted with a costume exhibit set up at the Roosevelt.
Elsewhere during the event, the host, stylist GooGoo Atkins, also led a tribute to late fashion luminaries Andre Leon Talley and Virgil Abloh. The celebration ended with a fashion show — with a runway laid over the pool — featuring looks from Kevan Hall, Carl Jones, Rodney Epperson, Isaiah Hemingway and Byron Lars of the Black Design Collective.