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Fashion has always been fun. It gives generation after generation the opportunity to enjoy fun clothes and express yourself in unimaginable ways. But even the most dedicated fashion lovers, myself included, are not always aware of how style is connected to culture, politics and culture social movements worldwide. While it's so much easier to pretend that a new trend doesn't have a long history of cultural appropriation or that marginalized communities haven't long been excluded from it Telling beauty on and off the screenThe truth is that it is impossible – it is everywhere.
This truth unfolds in the film in a fascinating and bone-moving way Judas and the black messiah, Directed by Shaka King, and written by Keith and Kenneth Lucas, Will Berson and King, available now on HBO Max. The narrative follows Fred Hampton (played by Daniel Kaluuya), chairman of the Chicago Chapter of the Black Panther Party, and tells how the FBI attacked and eventually murdered him by blackmailing one of his party colleagues, William O'Neil (played by) Has LaKeith Stanfield). While you may be wondering what exactly this film has to do with fashion, let me tell you that like all cultural movements, the Black Panther Party used style to convey its political beliefs. And the movement continues to affect every facet of the world today, from your favorite moments in pop culture (Beyoncé's Coachella performance) and accessories (ahem, the beret) for today's political politics.
With that in mind, we spoke to the film's costume designer, Charlese Antoinette Jones, to find out what went into the making of costumes for this film, the importance of the party's style, and how that story is more topical today than ever. But first a little about Jones.
How did you get into costume design?
I started as an unpaid intern in 2008 when the film industry allowed it. The internship was the only way I knew how to get into the industry because I didn't know anyone and I didn't go to school to design costumes. So there were no other options for me to get on sets. My first internship was on Lonely man, a Michael Douglas film. After that I worked for Ellen Mirojnick, the costume designer who just did Netflix's breakout show Bridgerton. After the internship, I became a production assistant and then joined the union as a designer and stylist assistant. I've styled a lot of commercials and got the opportunity to work with some incredible people like Dana R. Woods (best known for the movie) Friday) and Meredith Markworth-Pollack (known for dynasty). I learned from some fantastic people early on in my career as I worked my way up.
You have been a professional costume designer for eight years – what was your favorite work on so far and why?
Judas and the black messiah is definitely one of my favorite films. But I'd be lying if I didn't say I have three favorites: The first film I directed costume design for Newlyweeds, is very important to me because I was able to sum up the Brooklyn era in the mid-2000s and how I saw it then. It was a small and scratchy production, but it came out beautifully and went to Sundance. The director Shaka King won an Independent Spirit Award for it. It was an amazing experience for a first film and it was my love letter to Brooklyn and my community through clothing.
I'll see you yesterday is also a personal favorite. It's another film set in New York. I loved making this movie because I worked with a lot of local Brooklyn designers and Black designers and adapted a lot of pieces to make the world feel authentic. The subject of the film was moving and told the story of two clever children who build a time machine to save their brother from the brutality of the police. Spike Lee produced it and working with him was surreal because I grew up watching his films. I feel like having these two films together Judas and the black messiah, do an interesting POV and summarize my best work.
Why Judas and the Messiah? What was your interest in this project?
I took inspiration from reading and researching Fred Hampton's work and what he did in the year he chaired the Illinois Black Panther Party before he was murdered. Through my research, I came to the conclusion that people need to understand what the panthers were doing during this time and that this story needs to be told precisely because people have a false, media-driven perception of the panthers. We saw the images of the Oakland Black Panther Party chapter in the state capital with guns, but people don't get the context. There was that focus on getting heavily militarized. Even so, they didn't break the law. The Black Panthers exercised their gun rights and did far more positive things for the community than defamation of their image in the media at the time.
Given the long history of how this political party has been portrayed, this film just gets more powerful. It shows how they stood up for children and fed them theirs free breakfast program, raised Money for medical centers and other marginalized people. They weren't anti-whites or any other minority. They advocated that all poor people come together and demand what we all deserve. They believed that our children deserve good schools with books and resources. They believed that our children deserve food, our communities deserve medical clinics, and that police brutality should end. And all of these communities – Latino communities, white communities, and black communities – had these problems because they were poor. All of that drew me to this story.
What was it about creating costumes that were set in the early 70s? What was it like bringing this story to life?
This movie is set in 1969, one of my favorite epochs in fashion because it's such a defining moment in American culture. So much has been going on since the Black Panther Party was born – in addition to all of the protests and counterculture movements that were going on at the time – that the style moved on. There is also this futuristic fashion that is popping up at this time due to space travel and the Apollo launch. Much of what we understand as modern silhouettes, especially in men's fashion, was established in the 1960s. You can trace many of the pieces we wear every day back to the 1960s.
In addition to immersing myself in the fashion of the time, it was an important project because I was also able to create the most diverse department I've ever done for a film as a department head. We had people of different ages, races and sexual orientations and at least four different generations of contributors. That was very important to be able to shape and apply the look lived experience to the costumes. I was proud of the team we put together and I think that shows in the end product too. I want to encourage people to create more diverse costume departments because that is reflected in the work.
How did you create costumes for each character? What was the process?
Each character had a mood board. For the characters based on historical figures, I have referenced photos from that period and used them as a starting point. From there, I used these original photos as a guide to fill out her wardrobe.
How did you get the parts for the costumes? Were they custom? Vintage?
We had five weeks to prepare for filming. We identified key parts that we needed to build early and started working with our tailors. For example, the trench coat LaKeith Stanfield wears at the beginning of the film was made to measure. We recreated the boxers that murdered Chairman Fred Hampton – it was a whole process. We designed the fabric, printed it in New York, sent samples back and forth, approved the samples, and then recreated these boxers in-house. Creating custom pieces was the first step in designing costumes for this movie, and then everything else we put people on was worked out into adjustments for each character. Fortunately, I had an incredible team of buyers who helped me purchase lots of vintage pieces from Los Angeles, Ohio, and Atlanta. After we had everything on set in Ohio, the process sorted and organized everything by character and setting with our principles and background actors for the shoot.
You talked about how you used historical documentaries to dictate much of the movie's clothing choices. How did you examine both a party and a historical event that was misrepresented in the mainstream media?
Do you know what's crazy I thought I was having a challenging time because of exactly what you just said, but I realized there is so much about it when I start looking.
At the time, I watched several documentaries, including this group of French documentaries that followed Fred Hampton and Bob Lee (the founder of the original Rainbow Coalition) when they met with the Young Patriots. There are recordings of Chairman Fred speaking on education and holding these meetings about engaging the community. I was so surprised at how much I could find – free documentaries on Amazon, lawyers books on Kindle, loads of photos on Getty Images of the Black Panther Party protests. Not to mention, I've been fortunate enough to have access to resources like the Western Costume Research Library and Fred Hampton Jr. himself.
When I found all of this information, I wondered why I had never researched this before. I think that's because we didn't teach our story. We are not taught things and we do not know. Before working on the set, all I knew was that the FBI murdered Fred Hampton because I'd heard it in the music on T-shirts before. I was told it in conversations about the party in passing, but I didn't know the full story until I did the research.
How did the Black Panther Party use style to convey their beliefs? What do the costumes in the film mean?
Most of the images we see are from the Oakland chapter, the headquarters of the Black Panther Party. These photos show men and women in training in powder blue button-down shirts, dark trousers, dark shoes, leather jackets, sunglasses and berets. The berets were introduced nationwide in all chapters because they were the international symbol of revolutionaries. According to Huey P. Newton, the people fighting back wear berets when they watch movements and revolutions in third world countries around the world. That is why they included berets in the party. And the leather jackets were worn because they were readily available. Many people already had them. Together, the leather jackets, sunglasses, and berets were used to hide the members' identities for protection from the police, as the police targeted many people as part of this type of cultural movement. This is the intent behind the more popular uniform that you referred to in pictures.
The Illinois Black Panther Party wore camouflage green jackets. There were several reasons for this style distinction, according to Hampton Jr. For one thing, the camouflage jacket was easily available. Someone who served in your family, or you may have served in the Vietnam War and just got back – just take off the U.S. Army badges and make them nondescript. It also symbolized that the US government and Chicago police were specifically waging war against blacks and the panthers. Also, the ongoing draft was highlighted as there was much movement against the draft and the Vietnam War, so this was also a means of protest. There was war here too.
From my research and conversations with Hampton Jr., it emerged that the Black Panther Party uniforms were not only functional, but also liked to flip the meaning of something and make it work for them and their causes in clothing they wanted to wear. You never chose to wear this stuff on purpose to be stylish on purpose. It was functional and just looked cool. That's the beauty of it. Their uniform made others join the movement because they looked so cool.
Was your approach to creating costumes around Kaluuya from Hampton and Stanfield from O’Neal at all? What did you want to convey with your outfits in the film?
Since we have pictures of Fred Hampton in the world and people will see this film precisely because they are familiar with its story, I tried my best to honor its style through Kaluuya's costumes. I tried to recreate much of what he was photographed in and use the silhouettes of the looks he was documented in as the basis for all of the other outfits he wears in the film. We wanted to ground him in reality through his costumes just because he's a well known historical figure.
When it came to Stanfield's wardrobe, aside from the redesign of the Eyes on the price Documentary and a few other pictures by William O'Neal, I had a lot more space to play. The director and I decided we could take risks with his wardrobe as there wasn't much to do from a historical perspective. I could tell from a picture of O & # 39; Neal (where he's wearing sunglasses, a polo shirt, and a handkerchief around his neck) that he was a flashy guy, and I acted out that when I started creating his costumes .
What I love about this film is that you can see so clearly how O'Neal's style evolves as he moves through the story – what was your intention behind it?
I had several conversations with King, the director, about how O'Neal's style would mimic his character arc. His character goes through a journey through clothing; His clothes signal what is going on in the story. It drives the story in a way – its character and clothing – that the director and I talked about at great length. When does his clothes change? How is that changing? Why is he wearing a suit? Is he fed? Is he a panther? He always goes overboard, but he's kind of lost, so we're trying to show that through his clothes.
From these conversations we found out that he is disguised as a character. When he dresses up as a "Black Panther" he assumes he is wearing a leather jacket all the time because the Oakland Panthers wear leather jackets all the time. But when O’Neal isn't disguised as a panther, he meets Agent Roy Mitchell in those incredibly flashy suits when he starts getting more money. In the end, we had over 38 outfits for his character to reflect his character's various identities and internal conflicts.
Is there a look that you loved to create in the film?
I was just discussing this with the director because I recently re-watched the color corrected version of the film. When I looked at it again I thought: "Oh my god this outfit is so ridiculous. "And it's when O'Neal is at the phone booth and he calls Mitchell about trying to run away. He's wearing a cognac leather jacket and his wide-collared shirt has those gold stripes and he has those black, striped bell-bottoms and brown boots . Why would you wear that flashy outfit to run away? It's so over the top. He's just one extra Person because he chose to flee in it.
That made it so fun creating the costumes: the ability to play with them and also honor the time. I loved all of the costumes from the movie, including some supporting roles. I loved Deborah Johnson's (played by Dominique Fishback) costumes. I wish some of her looks had a little more screen time, but I'm a costume designer and we always want that. The film contains a lot of really great looks. I'm thrilled with how they turned out.
What's incredibly powerful about this movie is that the costumes take you back to the late 60s, but you step away from the movie and feel like nothing has really changed. How is this film more topical than ever for you?
Everything that has happened in relation to the call for diversity and all of the protests from last summer makes this more relevant than ever. I am a black woman and after reading this script and finishing the movie I got depressed. Remember, this was before any protests against George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, but after the film was done I realized that not much has changed. Activists have appeared dead over the years. Law enforcement agencies are using the same tactic they used at the Black Panther Party in the 1960s to protest today. The same struggles are still going on: we still have food deserts in this country, and many communities in America do not have access to quality food. Communities have no access to education, which is why all of these charter schools show up. People are still being brutalized by the police, which is what everyone else woke up and began to see last summer. But as a black woman I was always very aware of myself. And so I asked myself after the film: "What are we doing?" Nothing has changed and I had to unpack and work through that.
When you realized you felt deeply depressed when you were making this film. How are you getting on from that? What do you take away from this project?
What I drew from it was how powerful we are as a people and how strong the love is. And it influenced my activism. While in Cleveland, I supported the Boys & Girls Clubs in northeast Ohio with a program called Design You. I figured if I can dedicate resources to teaching children how to sew in this deprived area, it will enable them to make money in the future. I raised $ 1,000 through family, friends, and crew members for the program. We ended up donating 10 sewing machines, supplies, and our leftover patterns and fabrics when we were packing the film. This center was just a few blocks from where we were shooting at base camp. So Darrell Britt-Gibson (who plays Bobby Rush in the movie) got a few other actors and me to speak at the club. When I saw these children, seeing how much they cared about what we were saying, and realizing that I could make a difference, I felt less hopeless.
Sometimes we think we need to tackle the bigger problem when what everyone does in pieces turns into something big instead. The bigger problems can be overwhelming, but when we focus on the little things we can do in our communities, they are huge. I have people who make an effort to tell me about little things I did for them years ago and how they changed the course of their lives. And I had no idea that one little act of kindness, that job, or that money, or whatever I gave that person at the time, would make so much of a difference that way, and that kept me going on top of making art . Art is transformative; Art heals. And art leads to such conversations, and that's so nourishing for me – talking to people about my art, telling stories through clothes and clothes that affect a person's journey. The art and activism keep me going.
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