“This has been a long time coming.” Ruth E Carter started her first Oscars acceptance speech with these seven words, and to me, they sum up all of Black Panther’s historic wins. It’s been a long time coming for black women behind-the-scenes in Hollywood to get their recognition. They’ve been doing the work. They’ve been showing their work. Now, it’s finally time for that work to be lauded. FINALLY.
The technical categories that Black Panther won are usually overwhelmingly white. Hannah Beachler is the first black person to be nominated for and, of course, win a Production Design Oscar. Ruth E Carter is the first black woman to win an Oscar in Costume Design. They’re both the first black women to win a non-acting category since 1984. It’s been over 30 years. I don’t know why stats like that still shock me. There shouldn’t have been a 30-year gap between this kind of recognition, but we know that a movie like Black Panther had to get made, with a director like Ryan Coogler who empowered the women who worked with him, in order for their work to shine.
I’m not giving credit to Ryan Coogler here, but there’s something to be said about working with someone who gives you the support to do your best. I’m going to come back to Ruth E Carter, but first, Hannah Beachler’s speech hit me right in my feelings because it showed what that support looks like, especially for black women.
Standing at the podium, shaking and in tears, Hannah Beachler delivered a stunning speech.
“I stand here stronger than I was yesterday. I stand here with agency and self-worth because of Ryan Coogler—who not only made me a better designer, a better storyteller, a better person. I stand here because of this man who offered me a different perspective of life. Who offered me a safe space. Who is patient and gave me air, humanity, and brotherhood.”
I’m still mad they couldn’t find Coogler in his seat for cutaways during this moment but what struck me about it is that we know how rare a work experience like this is for black women in Hollywood – heck, for black women in any field. Because Hannah Beachler was empowered by Ryan Coogler, she’s an Academy Award winner, and she gets to pass that power on to the next. *That* is how change happens. This next part is when Hannah broke me.
“I give this strength to all of those who come next. To keep going and never give up, and when you think it’s impossible, just remember to say this piece of advice I got from a very wise woman: ‘I did my best, and my best is good enough.’”
Your best is good enough. That might not seem radical but for black people who have been told all their lives that they have to work twice as hard for half as much, your best being “good enough” is a profound leap of progress. It’s also a beautiful reminder for women who take on the burden of their families, or their spouses, or their friends, to go a little easier on themselves. Hannah Beachler’s speech would have been my favourite of the night if it wasn’t for Ruth E Carter.
Ruth E Carter is one of the most prolific and accomplished costume designers of all time. She’s proven herself with every job she’s taken but this job? It was f-cking undeniable. It’s almost exactly a year since Black Panther was first released and, in that year, Ruth E Carter has been explicit about her work. She’s talked in depth about the care she took in creating costumes that were specific to various countries and tribes that informed Wakanda. In her words, she’s been the “keeper of the culture” for decades. Seriously, there are still trends we wear because Ruth E Carter imagined them. Her work has been rooted in outfitting characters in stories that have shaped the culture, from School Daze to Seinfeld to Malcolm X. In Black Panther, she created Wakanda, a world which portrayed African people in a way Hollywood had never seen. Ruth E Carter DID THAT.
“Marvel may have created the first black superhero, but through costume design, we turned him into an African king. It’s been my life’s honor to create costumes. Thank you to the Academy. Thank you for honoring African royalty and the empowered way women can look and lead onscreen.”
This was my favourite part of Ruth E Carter’s speech. She focused on the way women can look onscreen, which I’ve been yelling about since last February. The women of Wakanda looked incredible, but they were also warriors or Queens and were suited up as such. But it’s the next line that got me:
“My career is built with passion to tell stories that allow us to know ourselves better.”
She didn’t say to “get you to know us better.” She is telling us exactly who her work is for, and it’s black women (and men) whose costumes she creates. I stan so hard.
Black Panther did not win Best Picture and even though these wins, plus Best Score, got my hopes up (after Hannah’s win I was literally pacing and yelling, “ARE WE GONNA WIN BEST PICTURE!?”), I always knew that last night would mean that this Black Panther journey was coming to an end. The big award would have been a nice, and well-deserved, win for a movie that has already earned so much but these historic wins show that Black Panther was always more than just a silly superhero movie or whatever the latest derivative classification is.
The best part of Black Panther’s wins? Watching the cast celebrate with their beloved crew. Every cutaway to Danai, Winston or Lupita during every win made my life. All three looked gorgeous, because of course they did. One small complaint: Winston’s white suit piping is a little too much.