Charlese Antoinette Jones interview: ‘Judas and the Black Messiah’ costume designer
“Judas and the Black Messiah” tells the true story of Black Panthers leader Fred Hamtpon, who was assassinated by the FBI in 1969 when he was only 21-years-old. For costume designer Charlese Antoinette Jones, “it was really awesome to research him and his life and see what an amazing community organizer and activist he was, and how much change he was able to affect in Chicago during that time.” We interviewed Jones as part of our “Meet the Experts” costume designers panel. Watch above.
Hampton is played by Daniel Kaluuya in the film, and there was plenty of first-hand accounts and images for Jones to refer to in dressing him for the part. “There’s a lot of people, more than I think we realize, who know his story and who have been inspired by his story.” She also referred to “books and documentaries about the party during that time. There was a group of French activists and documentarians that were following him and the party, so I got some great source video footage that I could watch and really look at even just his mannerisms and how he wore clothes.” What mattered was “to ground the story with the costumes being as authentic as we possibly could.”
Part of that authenticity meant understanding Hampton’s approach to clothing: “They were functional. They were utility … He was wearing things as armor as he’s going out in the streets and organizing. They were for comfort. They were for protection. He wore a lot of military gear and things like that.”
Jones had more creative freedom with the film’s other focal point, William O’Neal (Lakeith Stanfield). O’Neil was the real-life FBI informant who infiltrated the Black Panthers and ultimately helped the bureau assassinate Hampton. But he’s not as well-known a public figure as Hampton, so the costume designer “got to play a lot with that character … It’s completely out of my imagination and out of the imagination of the director [Shaka King] as far as his character’s journey.”
And that journey sees O’Neal torn between two different worlds: “Is he trying to be like Mitchell [played by Jesse Plemons], the agent that he is working for, or is he trying to be like Palmer [played by Ashton Sanders], who is one of the most militant and stylish Panthers in the party.” The clothes make the man, even as the man is struggling to decide who he is and where he belongs.