African-American Women Winners Make History at 91st Oscars – Lana K. Wilson-Combs reports

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HOLLYWOOD, CALFORNIA– It was an amazing and historic night for African-American women at the 91st Annual Academy Awards which were held Feb. 24 at the Dolby Theater in Los Angeles.

Regina King, won “Best Supporting Actress” for her sensational role in If Beale Street Could Talk. It was the first Oscar nomination and win for King.

During her heart-felt acceptance speech, King thanked her mother and the film’s director Barry Jenkins.

In addition, Hannah Beachler received an Oscar for “Best Production Design” and Ruth E. Carter won for “Best Costume Design” for their work on the astounding, Ryan Coogler directed hit movie Black Panther.

Beachler and Carter are the first black women to win Academy Awards in their categories. Even more impressive, they are the first to win in non-acting categories.

King, Beachler and Carter were exuberant about their deserving big wins and fielded several questions from the press back stage about their films and their historic achievements.


REGINA KING — If Beale Street Could Talk

Q. How sweet was it to have your mom there in the front row with you? Obviously, you gave much praise to her during your acceptance speech. What did it mean to you to have her there tonight?

REGINA: It’s hard to, like, put it in words really quickly. I feel like one of those full circle moments because so much of the character Sharon Rivers, was mapped or inspired by my mother and my grandmother. So, to have her there, my family was there, my sister, Reina, my son, Ian, were there. But it goes by so fast, and you want to thank so many people, and your mind just goes blank. And, you know, my mom was like the lighthouse right there. And just everything.

Q. How was it to get to say those words and play somebody who believed, you know, to the depth of their soul about love?

REGINA: If Beale Street Could Talk is a beautiful film. It was a beautiful novel before it was a film. I think that’s it’s a film that breaks through a lot of the sections that exist right now. You know, love is that thing that pushes us through trauma. You know, this is an urban tragedy, but tragedy is something that is experienced no matter what sex you are, no matter what race you are; and love and support is usually what pushes us through, which gets us to the other side. So, I think this film is so needed right now because we need a lot of help getting through the other side and seeing much we are alike. We are different in a lot of ways. Absolutely. Our circumstances are so different; but it’s to the core, to the core, we are really a lot alike.

Q. If Beale Street Could Talk was a very important part of American literature before this movie. What do you think James Baldwin would say right now and feel about this win and about the movie?

REGINA: I think one word, something that he would say often, Amen.


Q. What was it like for you to get involved with a project like Black Panther and create the world of Wakanda?

HANNAH: Well, I was going to get involved with the project because of Ryan Coogler. I’ve worked with him on two previous films, so there was never any doubt in my mind that I wanted to do the film, because I know what Ryan would bring to it and what it would become, not just a super hero film but a film for the ages. So, you know, it was about me getting the project, about Marvel, you know, sort of being convinced that I could do this project more than about me wanting to do the project, because I wanted to work with Ryan.

Q. Can you talk a bit especially about your inspirations both in terms of African history and of course, comic book history?

HANNAH: You know, collaborating with Rachel Morrison, Ruth Carter, Jay Hart, my set decorator, I mean, that’s just how you make films: You collaborate. It’s a collaborative medium in the way that we do it because we’re all visual, and we all, you know, bring that to the table. Part two of your question I don’t remember at all because I’m just totally freaking out right now, right? I’m like holding this, and I’m like trying to be super serious about, like, you know, when we did the you know, honestly, I’m like this is so yellow. (Lots of Laughter). So, you’ll have to excuse me, because I am literally losing my mind. But I will say a lot of the inspiration that came from the continent came about from really where we located Wakanda on the continent; because if people were going to migrate, they were going to migrate around that area. We took a very anthropological look at how the country was placed on the continent; and then from there, you know, you’ve got your Omo Valley tribes that are sort of southeast in Ethiopia. So, you know, it’s like they migrated down to Wakanda. That became our river tribe. So that’s sort of how we begun. We wanted to be as real as we could.

Q. Both at the Art Directors Guild Awards and tonight you talked about finding those moments where you stayed stronger. I wonder if you could reflect now, especially holding the Oscar, about those points where you felt insecure and how you managed to keep yourself going.

HANNAH: I think as creatives, you know, everyone goes through moments of struggle, and depression, like this is so hard. I’m not going to be able to make it and do it, and it’s really about the people you surround yourself with. Having Jay, having Victoria Alonso, and Kevin Feige, and Nate Moore, and Ryan Coogler, of course, and Zinzi Coogler, they are being patient and lifting me up every day. I mean, that’s how you get through it. It’s like feeding an elephant one spoonful at a time, because Panther was just ginormous, and there was a lot to do, and a lot of research, and 500-page bibles, and previously before that a 400-page bible. You know, it was nonstop. So, you lean on the people that you love and that are family, and I would consider, you know, Ryan and everyone on Panther part of my family.

Q. What would you say to black creators for the future of production design?

HANNAH: Don’t ever let anybody tell you that you can’t do this craft. You are worthy, and you are beautiful, and this is something for you. That’s what I would tell them.

Q. So just to piggyback off that question, I’m wondering if there was any advice that you were ever given that you feel pretty much changed the course of your career.

HANNAH: I’ve been given so much advice over the years, and every bit of it has changed everything. I think the advice that changed everything for me the most was when I arrived in Oakland all those years ago with Ryan Coogler on the first day, and he said, you know what? Just be honest, and be truthful, and be you; because if you don’t, if you’re not yourself, then, you know, this is never going to work. And that’s the best advice I got.

Q. Can you talk a little bit about what resonated with you when you first stepped on the set of “Black Panther?”

HANNAH: The first set that I walked onto that was completed was the casino, and I was driving in to work. I knew that they were finishing up the night before. And the stage door happened to be opened, and I thought, let me pull over and walk in. Nobody was there, and the lights were on; and I walked in, and I walked to the middle of that set, and I just fell to my knees and cried because I never thought I would be there. I never thought that I would ever have that opportunity to do something on that scale. I never thought that I never saw anyone like me have an opportunity to do something like that on that scale. I attributed that to Ryan Coogler and Marvel films; but it felt like it does now.

RUTH CARTER–Black Panther

Q. Is there one specific costume or one specific character whose costume you think earned you this award?

RUTH: Oh, I think that this was a very difficult category to win. And based on the fact that we used a new technology could have tipped the iceberg for me. All the nominees had brilliant costumes, but I had 3-D printing. And that might have done it.

Q. Please talk a bit about what this night means for you, being making history.

RUTH: Wow. I dreamed of this night. I dreamed of this night and I prayed for this night honestly. Not only just for being a hard working costume designer, but what it would mean for young people coming behind me, because, you know, this came from grass roots, you know. I started with independent film with Spike Lee, and it rose through 40 films, 50 films and two Oscar nominations without a win. But I dreamed of this night. And now I hope that now I won’t we won’t necessarily have to wait for another first. We have the first.

Q. As the first black person to win this award, what do you feel this award means for other black creators?

RUTH: Well, it just means that we’ve opened up the door. Finally, the door is wide open. And I’ve been struggling and, you know, digging deep, and mentoring, and doing whatever I could to raise others up. And I hope through my example this means that there is hope, and other people can come on in and win an Oscar just like I did.

Q. As you mentioned 3 D, there was a little bit of your costume design also from the Austrian designer Julia Koerner?

RUTH: Yes. The 3 D crown.

Q. How did you come to learn to work with her?

RUTH: Well, Julia Koerner is a brilliant and very smart architect professor at UCLA, who took the isicholo, the South African married woman’s hat, and she designed the algorithms in the computer and sent it to Belgium where we had it 3 D printed. If it weren’t for her brilliance, we would not have that costume in  Black Panther for sure.

Q. So in spite of or in addition to the newness of the technique, talk about the sourcing not only going back, in some cases, centuries for the African side, but even more specifically 50 years for the comic book and the Jack Kirby sensibility, how much that, if any, affected some of the design choices?

RUTH: Oh, absolutely. There were several iterations of the Black Panther story through every comic book writer and illustrator, but it all started with Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, and their idea that the black community in the 1960s needed a superhero. And guess what? The black community in 2018 and 2019 needed a superhero as well. So, with that, we created a new Wakanda because it’s a forward nation. It’s forward in technology. So, we couldn’t really use the old tech from the other comics. We had to create new tech. And with that, the door the ideas were open to us to be creative.

Q. In this business, we all know it’s all about the detail. And what you do as any costume designer, there’s just so many little details. So, what is it in this movie that stands out to you that really had you crazy over the details?

RUTH: Oh, well, I love the neck rings, the from the Ndebele tribe. I love the use of leather skins from the Himba women. I love the symbolism of the beadwork on the Dora Milaje. I love how the Dora Milaje costume honors the female form and doesn’t exploit it. And so, there were several things that really brought so much pride and responsibility to the crafting of these costumes to show that you can also be beautiful and be a warrior and not be exploited.

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