I was only 10 when I watched Spike Lee’s Malcolm X for the first time. I remember being so enthralled with the costumes, early on, particularly in the scene where Denzel Washington, as Malcolm Little, and Spike, as his friend Shorty, were walking down the street in their Zoot suits. The colors were so vibrant—the color red and bold black stripes were so intentional in the establishment of Malcolm as “Red” in his early years. I remember being transfixed by Denzel’s transformation into the revered version of Malcolm X that we are familiar with and how the costumes were so pivotal to that evolution.
Then I discovered you, Ruth, and who you are and what you looked like. At the time, when you were only 27 years old, you reminded me of my cool older cousins and my young aunts. It was also at that moment I really learned what a costume designer does and that someone from my community, who was also a young person, was doing this esteemed job. I realized that this was a career that was a potential option for me as a young Black girl. I followed your career after this moment, and you have designed the costumes for so many of the films that influenced my generation, style, and pop culture as a whole.
What’s Love Got to Do With It, Meteor Man, Crooklyn, BAPS, Rosewood, and the upcoming Coming 2 America—shall I go on? I’m forever grateful to you, Ruth, for your contributions to the culture and for showing this Black girl that she, too, can make costume design a career. —Charlese Antoinette
Charlese Antoinette is a costume designer and stylist whose most recent work includes the highly anticipated film Judas and the Black Messiah, out Friday, Feb. 12.