De­sign­ing ‘Dolemite’ look was her game

Ruth E. Carter goes from ‘Pan­ther’ to blax­ploita­tion

The Morning Call - - MOVIES - By Son­aiya Kel­ley

When Os­car-win­ning cos­tume de­signer Ruth E. Carter signed on to out­fit the stars of Net­flix’s up­com­ing dram­edy “Dolemite Is My Name,” she did it with the caveat that the cos­tumes them­selves wouldn’t serve as just another punch­line in the story.

“This is not a film where you make fun of ev­ery­body and you laugh be­cause ev­ery­body’s got a big Afro and bell-bot­toms,” she said. “This is a film where you look a lit­tle bit deeper into all of the de­tails about this time and you make peo­ple look good.”

The film stars Ed­die Mur­phy as the real-life Rudy Ray Moore, a floun­der­ing co­me­dian de­ter­mined to claw his way into the spot­light. He man­ages to do just that by cre­at­ing the al­ter ego Dolemite, an ob­scene pimp car­i­ca­ture bor­rowed from the street mythol­ogy of 1970s Los Angeles.

With Dolemite, Moore quickly tran­si­tions from dis­grun­tled record store em­ployee to stage act to pur­veyor of his own il­licit com­edy al­bums be­fore even­tu­ally be­com­ing a movie star against all odds. Co­me­di­ans Kee­ganMichael Key, Mike Epps, Craig Robin­son, Ti­tuss Burgess and Da’Vine Joy Randolph round out the cast, along with a mem­o­rable comedic turn by Wes­ley Snipes.

The film, which had its world pre­miere at the Toronto In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val, will hit Net­flix stream­ing on Oct. 25.

Though Carter (who won an Os­car last year for her work on “Black Pan­ther”) has crafted pe­riod cos­tumes for al­most a dozen films — in­clud­ing the ’70s-spe­cific movies “Crook­lyn” (1994) and “What’s Love Got to Do With It” (1993) — the wardrobe for “Dolemite” was more ex­ag­ger­ated and over-thetop than any­thing she’s con­structed since 2009’s blax­ploita­tion par­ody “Black Dy­na­mite.”

“I wanted to re­ally show the ’70s fash­ion that I knew and re­mem­bered and that peo­ple loved,” she said. “The ur­ban fash­ion kind of cre­ated its own look. There were the hip­pies with their earth shoes and fringe vests or you could be ur­ban and do that kind of pimp, pros­ti­tute look.”

Carter drew in­spi­ra­tion for cos­tumes di­rectly from Moore’s own films, lean­ing heav­ily on his 1975 fea­ture de­but “Dolemite” whose slap­dash pro­duc­tion is il­lus­trated in the Net­flix film.

She also ref­er­enced her vast stores of ’70s fash­ion mag­a­zines, in­clud­ing Ebony, Esquire and the now-de­funct Ele­ganza cat­a­log.

“Richard Roundtree, who plays ‘Shaft,’ was a fash­ion model at the time for the mag­a­zine,” Carter re­called.

“It showed the ur­ban fash­ions which, in many ways, mim­icked the blax­ploita­tion era of pimp cul­ture: the maxi coats with the fur col­lar, the hom­burg, polyester dou­ble-knit jump­suits, mata­dor pants, marsh­mal­low shoes. I re­mem­ber as a kid how peo­ple would love to look at that mag­a­zine and just dream about or­der­ing some of that stuff.”

With just six weeks of prep, Carter had to work fast. Af­ter gath­er­ing ref­er­ence points, her first or­der of busi­ness was to source cos­tumes and fab­rics from cos­tumers across Los Angeles to out­fit the seven stars of the film. Mur­phy’s char­ac­ter alone re­quired be­tween 35 and 40 cos­tumes.

“Dolemite/Rudy Ray Moore was so in­ter­est­ing in his cos­tume choices that we tried to do it ex­actly the way he did it, so we had to build ev­ery­thing,” she said.

Rather than hunt­ing down ready­made ’70s-style cos­tumes, Carter opted in­stead to pro­cure au­then­tic fab­rics and ma­te­ri­als from the decade to make her own.

“I went to a fab­ric store that had fab­rics that were never bought from the ’70s and ’80s and col­lected dou­ble knit polyester, that par­tic­u­lar style of denim and all of those in­ter­est­ing com­bi­na­tions of pas­tel, plaid and wo­vens and (sup­ple­mented them with) the shelves and shelves of ’70s fab­rics I just had in my stu­dio,” she said.

Af­ter work­ing with Mur­phy a hand­ful of times on films like “Daddy Day Care,” “Meet Dave,” “Dr. Dolit­tle 2” “Imag­ine That” and in the up­com­ing “Com­ing 2 Amer­ica,” the vet­eran co­me­dian and vet­eran cos­tumer have honed a cre­ative short­hand that makes col­lab­o­rat­ing seam­less.

“I’ve al­ways un­der­stood that he as a per­former is a trans­for­ma­tion­ist,” said Carter. “

And so with that un­der­stand­ing, we go through a process where he’s work­ing on por­tray­ing a char­ac­ter and I’m do­ing the same, but with cloth­ing. I can­not dis­rupt his process by mak­ing things en­cum­bered, mak­ing him un­com­fort­able. I have to keep his process and mine fluid. So that’s what I fo­cus on, how do we bridge the gap be­tween func­tion and then the look?”

In ad­di­tion to be­ing fa­mil­iar with each other’s cre­ative pro­cesses, Mur­phy and Carter also ben­e­fited from hav­ing sim­i­lar mem­o­ries of the ‘70s.

“I think be­cause Ed­die and I are about the same age we re­mem­ber the ‘70s the same way,” Carter said. “I gave him a pair of shoes and they’re called marsh­mal­lows, they’re plat­form shoes that had a white heel and a white plat­form that was usu­ally like a spongy ma­te­rial. And he’s like ‘Oh, yeah, I re­mem­ber marsh­mal­lows. I had a pair.”


Ed­die Mur­phy and, from left, Craig Robin­son, Mike Epps, Ti­tuss Burgess and Da’Vine Joy Randolph in a scene from “Dolemite is My Name.”

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