The Costumes in ‘Judas and the Black Messiah’ Offer a History Lesson in Social Justice

“There are a lot of people anticipating his story being told,” says “Judas and the Black Messiah” costume designer Charlese Antoinette, about the gravity and expectation involved in bringing the story of Illinois Black Panther Party Chairman Fred Hampton to the screen. 

Antoinette created distinctive color palettes for each group to then “marry together” for the wide shots, while staying within the overall movie’s “grounded in earth and jewel tones,” she says. The Young Patriots wear “Americana”-inspired red, white and blue across rugged plaids, denim, corduroy and cowboy boots, while the Crowns “look really cool and sleek” in monochrome black, a sprinkling of marigold and “money green” berets.

The movie acquired the legal rights to use the actual colors of the Young Lords, as seen in the deep plum berets. Antoinette’s team “stitched together” multiple vintage sweaters to replicate the group’s purple and gold cardigans. (Letterman jackets and preppy cardigans played an integral sartorial role in ’60s and ’70s Chicago street gang culture, as the costume designer discovered in her research.) The real Young Lords leader, Jose “Cha Cha” Jimenez, (portrayed in the film by Nicholas Velez) also visited the set and gave his official approval, as well as a gift.

“He really loved everything and he said, ‘It looks just like that time,’ so that was really dope,” Antoinette remembers. “He personally handed me Young Lord pins to put on actors. It was beautiful.”

Her commitment and dedication to research not only helped bring authenticity to Hampton’s story — and continue his legacy — through costume, it also had an impact on Antoinette personally and professionally. She recently launched the Black Designer Database, which creates access and opportunity for Black brands to be featured on-screen. (She featured members’ designs during her promotion for the movie.) 

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