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23 Interesting Things To Know About The Costumes In "Judas And The Black Messiah"

So many berets!

The highly anticipated film Judas and the Black Messiah has finally dropped on HBO Max, and if you haven't watched it yet, you reaallllly should.

Chairman Fred Hampton wearing a black beret and brown corduroy jacket at a rally
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Set in 1968, this biographical film tells the story of FBI informant William O'Neal (LaKeith Stanfield), who infiltrated the Illinois Black Panther Party to keep tabs on charismatic leader Chairman Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya).

FYI, it's streaming for free for subscribers on HBO Max now until March 14, and it's also playing in theaters.

Fred sitting with Deborah on a sofa, with his arm around her
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Being a period piece, Judas and the Black Messiah features some *chef's kiss* costume design. So, BuzzFeed attended a virtual summit and then chatted with the film's costume designer, Charlese Antoinette Jones, to learn more. Here's what we found out about her amazing work on the film:

Note: Spoilers ahead!

1. Jones started researching for the film about a year before it was even greenlit.

2. And she relied on several documentaries during her research.

Archival photo of the Black Panther party wearing black berets, leather jackets, pants and combat boots
Jack Manning / Getty Images

“I got really lucky because I had a lot of documentary footage to pull from. A lot of journalists were shooting the Party and the Rainbow Coalition of that time," Jones said.

3. However, the actual prep time Jones and her team had was very short — roughly five weeks.

4. Jones and her team sourced roughly 90% of the clothing for the film, so it's almost entirely authentic '60s clothes you see in the movie.

5. Various chapters of the Black Panther Party had their own versions of a uniform and sets of rules about what members could and couldn't wear.

Archival footage of the Black Panther Party wearing leather jackets, berets, sunglasses, and powder blue shirts
PBS / Via youtube.com

“The images we’re most familiar with of the Black Panther Party are the Oakland chapter. They have the powder blue shirts on, the leather jackets, sunglasses, and berets,” Jones explained.

6. And there were specific reasonings behind the Black Panther Party uniforms. For example, the iconic berets were meant to be symbolic of being revolutionaries...

Daniel Kaluuya as Fred Hampton wearing a black beret
Glen Wilson / Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

"The berets, as Huey P. Newton said, was the international symbol of revolutionaries,” said Jones.

7. ...and the black leather jackets and sunglasses were simply practical — these were readily available clothing items and also useful for security reasons.

Bobby Rush wearing dark sunglasses, a black leather coat, and brown turtle neck
Warner Bros.

In her research, Jones found that "the reason why they wore leather jackets, specifically, was because it was something a lot of people had already. Also, they wore the sunglasses with the jackets to kind of conceal their identities for safety."

8. The Illinois chapter had their own unique look — the green camo WWII jackets, as featured in the film.

Fred Hampton and the Illinois Black panthers wearing black berets and green camo jackets
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Jones went on to elaborate the symbolism, saying, “The Illinois Party specifically, which was formed in late ’68, they wore these camo green WWII jackets for a couple reasons… 1) It’s what was readily available, 2) there were a lot of protests around the Vietnam war at that time, and 3) to symbolize that they were at war. That this country was at war with Black people, the Chicago police was at war with them."

9. There really were several groups using different colored berets at that time in Chicago.

The Rainbow Coalition forming in Chicago, all wearing different beret colors
Warner Bros.

"It is visually fascinating to have a Rainbow Coalition, and also have people of different races wearing different colored berets," said Jones.

10. For example, in real life, the Young Lords really did wear purple berets...

A member of the young lords, a Latino group, wearing purple berets
Warner Bros.

And the Young Lords' leader, Cha Cha Jimenez, actually came to set.

11. ...and the Young Patriots wore coyote brown berets.

Members of the Young Patriots, a white group, wearing light brown berets
Warner Bros.

It's a brief moment, but you can see the different color berets during Fred's speech about forming a Rainbow Coalition.

12. And there were a couple reasons why groups at that time wore berets.

Two members of the Crowns wear green berets
Warner Bros.

"Either one group (or sometimes gangs) already had the berets and that was what they adopted, or a group of a different race was inspired by the Black Panther Party and adopted the berets," explained Jones.

13. Deborah's look evolves throughout the film to help signify change.

Deborah wearing a turtleneck and dress, and then a Black Panther uniform, and then a soft night gown
Warner Bros.

The filmmakers wanted "to be able to signify change in her as she becomes a mother and also becomes a revolutionary. It was fun to mature her through her clothing," said Jones.

14. When Deborah and Fred are reunited after he gets out of jail, Jones said she wanted Deborah's costume to be warm and welcoming.

Fred touching Deborah's baby bump, Deborah wearing a warm, brown cape, and a pumpkin-red dress underneath
Warner Bros.

Jones elaborated, "I picked the colors that she's wearing to be warm, like warm-fuzzy. So, those browns and golds and that beautiful pumpkin dress that she wears, I wanted them to be really warm and welcoming."

15. And you'll note a complete tonal shift overall in the cast's clothing after Chairman Fred gets out of jail.

Fred standing at a pulpit addressing member of his party at a welcome home event
Warner Bros.

"You see it visually through clothing, like everyone's wearing more leather, the colors that people are wearing are getting a little darker, because we're getting towards the end," said Jones.

16. The robe Deborah is wearing the night of the raid and Hampton's murder was re-created by Jones and her team by referencing archival footage.

Deborah Johnson wearing a robe that has a specific retro pattern
Warner Bros.

To get it just right, they "had to design the fabric and print it as well," said Jones.

17. Jones and her PA would literally print out every photo of Fred Hampton and lay them out on the floor to track the progression of Hampton's look in real life.

18. Throughout the film, O'Neal's looks are meant to represent how confused he is as a character — he doesn't know if he's a Panther or a Fed. So he often copies others, like Palmer.

O'Neal dressed in a turtle neck and camo, later in the movie, wearing a black beret and leather jacket like Palmer was earlier in the movie
Warner Bros.

"Palmer is like authentic and cool, and O'Neal is trying too hard and he comes off like really, really flashy," said Jones.

19. O'Neal slowly starts to wear "flashy" accessories as the film progresses, like green boots, a fancy belt buckle, and green-tinted sunglasses.

Close-ups of O'Neals green boots, belt buckle, and green-tinted sunglasses
Warner Bros.

The buckle (which is hard to see in the final cut of the film, but it's there!!!) was actually a vintage one Jones and her team found, but they had to re-create it because the vintage one broke.

20. Speaking of green, the color green is often used on O'Neal to symbolize greed and capitalism.

William O'Neal wearing a green fedora
Warner Bros.

This look, with the green fedora, was one of Jones' favorites. She said, "He has on this green fedora and he really looks ridiculous and over-the-top to be having an 'informant' meeting. I think it just spoke to his character and how lost his character is."

21. The Eyes on the Prize 2 suit Stanfield wears as O'Neal in the film was actually built for the movie.

William O'Neal in the movie in a grey suite compared to the same outfit from the Eyes on the Prize 2 documentary of O'Neal
Warner Bros. / PBS / Via youtube.com

"We had to build that and sourced all the fabric," said Jones.

22. The last time we see O'Neal, you'll note his outfit is a kind of hybrid Panther-Fed look.

O'Neal wearing a black leather coat over a formal grey suit
Warner Bros.

"You can track a lot of what's happening in the story through his clothing," said Jones.

23. And finally, after working on Judas and the Black Messiah, Jones actually established a program through the Boys & Girls Club of Cleveland to help disadvantaged children in the community where they filmed through fashion.

Brooke Greenberg / BuzzFeed

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