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Working on 'Coming 2 America' was a dream come true, says Oscar winner Ruth E Carter

·5-min read

New Delhi, Mar 9 (PTI) Academy Award-winning costume designer Ruth E Carter says working on the Eddie Murphy and Shari Headley-starrer 'Coming 2 America' was like living a 'fantasy' as it gave her a chance to collaborate with nearly 40 designers from around the globe, including India's J J Valaya, to create opulent clothes.

Carter is known for her seminal work in Marvel's superhero film 'Black Panther' for which she won an Oscar as well as iconic movies such as 'Selma', 'Do the Right Thing' and 'Dolemite is My Name', starring Murphy.

For 'Coming 2 America', which started streaming on Amazon Prime Video from March 5, Carter told PTI in a Zoom interview from Los Angeles that she was careful about honouring the legacy of the first movie.

The 1988 original, titled 'Coming to America', revolved around Murphy's Akeem, the prince of the fictional African country Zamunda, who travels to New York and meets the love of his life.

In the sequel, the recently-crowned King Akeem and his trusted confidante Semmi (Arsenio Hall) embark on new adventure that brings them back to the borough of Queens – where it all began.

Carter, 60, said the iconic outfits from the first film, designed by Deborah Nadoolman Landis, were loved by everyone, so she wanted to be 'consistent' with her work on the follow-up.

'I was really paranoid about not honouring the first one because everyone loves the first movie so much that I needed to go back and take another look at it because I love the first one as well. I wanted to make sure we kept that consistent, like I did not want to change Zamunda,' the designer said.

Valaya came to her mind for creating the majestic look of the women characters in the movie, particularly Headley's character of Queen Lisa.

Together they worked on giving the character 'big opulent collars'. They also hand-dyed her capes, embellished them with adornments by putting African symbols into the design.

'I involved other fashion designers from Africa, from India, because the first movie did that. In the first movie, you saw a little bit of sari fabrics, when you saw the drapes and the lion on the shoulder (worn by Murphy's on screen father James Earl Jones),' she said.

Carter had about 10 weeks to create all the outfits for the movie and she said Valaya, who is known for his intricate detailing and craftsmanship, delivered in record time. 'He is a pre-eminent designer from India and his work is absolutely stunning. I would go to his site often and look at the things he was creating. I also wanted to utilise the natural way that he applied the sequins, embellishments and beauty that is quite inherent in the culture, and also in his work,' she said.

'Because this is royalty, I had to make sure that they were embellished with sequins in gold and they glittered. We had very little time so I had to go straight to JJ and say, 'You know, let's collaborate. Here are some designs, let's think about how we can get it done'. And he delivered.' For men's outfits, Carter said they decided to be cruelty-free and 3D print the lion head for Murphy's character.

The only second in American cinema after multiple Oscar winning designer Edith Head to have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Carter said she wanted to have fun with the film.

'It's a little girl's dream. It was like a fantasy that I got to play in,' she said.

The original wedding dress on Lisa, still memorable for its long trail, was in pink but red was the colour of love in the sequel.' Carter reached out to LaVie designer Claude Kameni after spotting the dress on actor-musician Tracee Ellis Ross at the 2018 American Music Awards to create the trail this time.

She set up a workgroup early on to create the looks for the gallery, for the crowd and women.

'It would have been nice to just bring that crowd back from the first movie but it was 30 years ago. We wanted to move the idea forward and create new things that were in the spirit of the first movie, big shoulders on dresses, big skirts, beautiful fabrics and beautiful headdresses. It was a lot to build so we had about 40 designers around the globe that I worked with.' It is not for the first time that Carter has worked on creating a royal look.

Her sketches in 'Black Panther' stand out for the regal look she gave to her characters by combining traditional African designs with futuristic techniques. She became the first African American to win best costume design Academy Award for her work on the Marvel blockbuster.

Talking about the 2018 film automatically brings back the memories of actor Chadwick Boseman, who played the Black Panther aka king T'Challa of fictional African nation Wakanda. The actor passed away in 2020 after a secret battle with colon cancer.

Carter said everyone involved with the film felt a 'tremendous sense of loss' with Boseman's unexpected death at the age of 43.

'(But) the memory of how hard he worked and how dedicated he was to express will live on forever,' she added.

Carter considers it an honour to have worked on 'Black Panther' where she infused African tribal wear, customs and technique into costumes.

'There were so many resources to pull from throughout the continent of Africa. It's vast, amazing and honestly it was untapped in the way we did. We chose 12 real tribes to be inspired by. We chose to honour their artistry and beauty, and that really resonated with people,' she said.

Directed by Craig Brewer, 'Coming 2 America' saw a return of Jones as King Jaffe Joffer, John Amos and Louie Anderson. The new cast membes are Wesley Snipes, Leslie Jones, Bella Murphy, Tracy Morgan, Jermaine Fowler, Rotimi, KiKi Layne, Nomzamo Mbatha and Teyana Taylor. PTI BK RDS BK BK BK