With initial thoughts of becoming an actor, Carter attended Hampton University where she was hired to costume design for university films and plays, unknowingly the beginning of a career that would grow to shape and become cemented in Black cinema for years to come.
Carter's big break was Spike Lee's School Daze (1988), for which she captured the vibrant reality of students at historically Black colleges and universities. She even worked with pioneering Black designer Willi Smith to construct the outfits for the film's homecoming scene.
Carter received Academy Award nominations for Malcom X and Steven Spielberg's Amistad (1997), but it wasn's until the 2018 release of Black Panther, the Black-casted superhero film depicting the fictional tribe of Wakanda, that Carter won the Academy Award for Best Costume Design.
Black Panther's historical work wouldn't have been the same without Carter's extravagant costuming. Inspired by African tribes, Carter took a research trip to southern Africa and obtained permission from the country Lesotho to weave its traditional designs into the film.
Carter continues to cement her name in costuming and film, visually telling the historical and contemporary stories of Black reality through clothes. Her legacy is likely far from complete, with her work slated to grace screens again in Craig Brewer’s 2021 Coming 2 America.