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Ruth Carter


By Alayna Jones

Do the Right Thing by Alayna Jones of Lonnie Smith, Elxavier Caldwell, Devin Newsom and Byron Hilson / Styled by Elxavier Caldwell / Photography Assist by Joelle Beauchamp

Let’s look at how the two-time Oscar winner makes costume design poetic and relatable to the hottest day in Bed-Stuy, New York. 


Be bright.... almost blinding AFROCENTRIC bright!” utter the words of a young Spike Lee directing his vision. Nobody can argue that when it comes to Lee’s films, he tells a story through different lenses, but the double dolly shot is truly something that has become a staple piece when it comes to his films. Though, when it comes to the little details, Ruth Carter uses color to convey the stories of black men when it comes to police brutality. Red, green and gold are dressed vibrantly on characters to represent Afrocentrism and using colors to bring light on these unfortunate situations. 


It’s 1989 in Bed- Stuy, New York and Radio Raheem are walking down the streets with just a simple outfit on: Nike Air Revolutions and gold rings saying “Love and Hate” but did you know it has meaning? These words are represented on Raheem's hand as reference of the film “Night of the Hunter” (1955). In the film, the characters tell a story of how love and hate can be an “internal struggle within oneself”. Later, Carter made the decision to include details related to this film by getting customized rings to symbolize the original meaning and its theme. Pairing this up with a customized colorful hand painted shirt saying the slogan “Bed Stuy Do or Die”. This forces me to understand the love and hate relationship of the neighborhoods in the U.S. Growing up in communities like Bed-Stuy, you love the culture you come from; the corner stores to get ice cream with friends or the hot summer days of playing outside until the streetlights come on but, you also hate how crime has affected the people you’ve known. How losing a friend at a young age becomes tragic and unfortunately common. 


 Due to the drugs and violence that emerged in the 80s, this phrase literally means “make a move or die” which represents an endless hustling culture of citizens. Meaning you can do the most with your life: get a good job, make decent money, and maybe even leave Bed-Stuy for a better life or you can fall victim to the epidemic and eventually go down the wrong path. In other words, you can either do the right thing or struggle, get it? Carter uses timeless accessories like rings to give a more cinematic and poetic meaning, shedding light on real life events that left communities traumatized. 


Mookie’s character, played by Spike Lee, also has pieces throughout the film that represent the colors red, white and green. His character gives more of a fashionable vibe as Carter duplicated his look from the 1989 commercial that features Nike Air Trainers from the SC line in the Medicine Ball colorway. Lee was able to pair this with a bowling shirt he found in his closet as Carter was able to embroider the sign ‘Sal’s Famous Pizzeria” on the right side of his shirt. This gave historic reference back to the racially motivated death of Michael Griffith, who was hit by a car, fleeing from a mob of Italian American men and the killing of Michael Stewart, who was a graffiti artist beaten to death in police custody. The logo and how Mookie’s character is portrayed by always spraying graffiti gave Carter more of a reason to be so poetically versatile with a look that most people looking at the film would ignore. 


Carter has created costume designs for notorious films like School Daze (Lee, 1988), Malcolm X (Lee, 1992), Black Panther (Coogler, 2018), Shaft (Singleton, 2000) and many more but I hope people now understand how the use of color can represent history and bring emotion. As I write this, I reminisce about little me staring cluelessly into the T.V watching graffiti getting sprayed by Spike Lee’s character in the film but now red, green, and yellow mean something a little more to me and I hope it means something more to you too. 

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