In February, Crown Royal celebrates heroes in the Black Community who have achieved royal status through hard work and a generous spirit. So, to honor Black Royalty, the legendary brand partnered with Oscar-winning Costume Designer Ruth E. Carter to design limited-edition packaging for the upcoming release of Coming 2 America.
Crown Royal uplifts the ‘New Royalty,’ the kind of royalty achieved through hard work and a generous spirit with this collaboration. In particular, it acknowledges those who have continued to achieve so much despite the odds.
Coming 2 America is the sequel to the original 1988 film starring Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall. The film follows Akeem traveling back to Queens, NY where he once sought identity and romance, to find his long-lost son (Jermaine Fowler) and heir to the throne of Zamunda. With Arsenio Hall reprising his role as Akeem’s trusted confidante Semmi, the two return to the fictional African nation with Akeem’s firstborn for him to get acquainted with his wife Queen Lisa (Shari Headley), his three daughters, and the royal kingdom. Ruth E. Carter serves as Costume Designer for the highly anticipated film scheduled for release next month.
In 2019 Ms. Carter became the first Black person to win an Oscar for costume design after being the lead costume designer on more than 60 films throughout her illustrious career. Her first Oscar nomination was for Spike Lee’s Malcolm X back in 1992.
BET spoke with the Hampton University graduate about her role as Costume Designer for Coming 2 America and her collaboration with Crown Royal.
BET: How is this collaboration different from any you've done in the past, and what about Crown Royal made you want to align with them?
Ruth E. Carter: Crown Royal has a legacy of real royalty. So this collaboration is different from others I've had in the past because it's a direct connection to Coming 2 America, which celebrates Black Royalty. So I redesigned the box with iconic prints that I put into Coming 2 America. The embroidery that Prince Akeem wears and the lion that's on his shoulders are on the box. So we're really celebrating perseverance and royalty with this limited-edition Crown Royal packaging. And that's exciting because now people have something to go along with their outfits that they wear to see the movie, and they can have a gift that they can exchange.
BET: Coming 2 America is about Royalty and being regal, so what is the reaction you're hoping to get from supporters surrounding the collaboration?
RC: I hope that people see this as part of the bigger picture. It's part of the way we celebrate each other, the way we celebrate African Royalty. And the way that we share, because we haven't been able to share for such a long time now. For this whole year, we haven't been able to have a connection. This limited edition packaging and idea is a way that we can share the Royalty of Zamunda because it's directly taken from the imagery of the clothing that I designed and people want to celebrate. They want to participate in this film like they did the first one because of the environment that we're in. They have limited ways to do it as they usually would. So, this is a way you can give each other a gift and share in the joy of celebrating Black Royalty and share it.
BET: You've worked on so many movies that have transcended over generations. What is your most memorable costume design moment in Coming 2 America?
RC: I felt such a sense of pride about Coming 2 America. I felt that way about getting Eddie Murphy dressed as Prince Akeem because I grew up watching Coming to America. I loved the film and loved all of the performances and how he changed into different characters.
So not only was it a huge responsibility, but I found myself feeling like I had contributed to the culture with Coming 2 America because I got to dress Prince Akeem, I got to dress to Semmi, the guys in the barbershops, and Shari Headley. So I tried to develop things that I felt would be significant. One of the signatures was the masks' embroidery, the different beautiful prints all mixed together. And I got an opportunity to put that in the packaging on Crown Royal's box. And we were cruelty-free. We didn't want it to feel like it was like an animal on your shoulder. So we 3D printed the beautiful lion head that Eddie wears in the film, and I got to put that on the box too. So this is a keepsake. This meant a lot to me to do and will have some meaning for people who collect the bags and collect the boxes. It's full of substance.
BET: Where did you draw inspiration from for the film? Did you reference the original Coming to America?
RC: I was stepping into some pretty big shoes, not only the original designers' shoes but the shoes of the memory that it has sustained throughout the years. We don't always remember all of the details, so when I went back through the older film, it was 30 years ago. We've learned a lot more about African royalties since 30 years ago. So, I wanted to make sure that I wasn't just a carbon copy of the first film. I made sure I joined everyone else in our understanding of our heroes. We now know so much more about Africa. So I wanted to stay in a modern mindset.
So, I involved a lot of African designers around [the continent]. They contributed to the film. I wanted to keep those iconic images of the tuxedo, tailcoats with the sash over it. The beautiful crosses that they wore on their neck and the envelope hats that the men wore, and the lovely shapes and Ankara fabric that the women wore. We were able to get some of the original costumes from a costume house, and we put some of them in the funeral scene, which was a big scene. We dressed so many people, and when you see the movie, you go, "Oh, that's only there for a little while," but it was so gratifying to know that we took it to the next step.
BET: Do you believe fashion and activism merge, and how do you use your career to further conversation about the two?
RC: I'm a storyteller, so activism is a big part of what I do. It's how I get my message across to the viewer. So when I think of Spike Lee's Do The Right Thing. It stood the test of time with the issues we faced 25 years ago because we are still facing [them] today. So it was crucial as a designer that I'm thinking forward, and my messaging tells the truth in the storytelling and the garments. Garments are sometimes garments of protests.
BET: What advice do you have for the next generation of costume designers looking for longevity in this industry?
RC: You have to love it first and foremost. You have to understand what you want, fashion design or costume design because they are different. And, you have to understand the definitions and what's going into them because, you know, prominent fashion designers say to me, 'I can never do what you do.' And I think to myself; I could do what they do. But don't be afraid to take your ideas to the next level. Don't try to be like anyone else, don't worry about an evaluation because people will evaluate your stuff from now to the end of time. Don't be afraid to trust your voice and be the artist you want to be.
BET: You’ve designed costumes for more than 60 films, you’re the first Black person (man or woman) to win an Oscar for Costume Design, and you received a Hollywood Walk of Fame star in 2019. What are you hoping your legacy will be?
RC: It's lovely to be in the history books. It's beautiful to be the first African-American costume designer to win an Oscar in Costume Design. It's wonderful to be the first African-American to be nominated for an Oscar in Costume Design for Malcolm X. Malcolm X and Black Panther and Coming 2 America are iconic films in our culture. They have meant the world to us, and I hope that they will continue to celebrate Black culture, not only during Black heritage month but throughout the year. And I'm honored that my name sails along with them. I don't know if there's any other person who has touched on as many cultural films as I have and has done it with such pride. And I hope that people will always see that element of me in my work. When they look at those films, they say this person who did these costumes loved her community, loved her culture, and loved the work of a Costume Designer.
Each Crown Royal x Coming 2 America limited-edition pack comes with a Crown Royal Fine De Luxe Blended Canadian Whisky bottle, outfitted in a unique purple + gold stitched jacquard bag to tie back to the brand’s royal roots. In addition, each bottle will come in collector’s edition Coming 2 America packaging.
This article has been edited and condensed for clarity.