In “Judas and the Black Messiah,” LaKeith Stanfield plays William O’Neal, the FBI informant recruited to infiltrate the Illinois Black Panther Party.
Costume designer Charlese Antoinette Jones breaks down how she wanted to present O’Neal in the film’s opening scenes, and what shows influenced one of his early looks when we first meet his character. Antoinette Jones discusses the use of green and how it became a symbol of greed in his character, and the more money he makes from being an informant — because soon enough, O’Neal becomes a part of the Black Panther Party and local chairman Fred Hampton’s (Daniel Kaluuya) inner circle of friends.
“This look is a disguise. It was scripted as a disguise. Director Shaka King and I spoke about the TV show ‘FBI,’ and that served as the inspiration for his disguise. I used actual images from the show for the color and silhouette. However, for the story, I needed that coat to be long. The coat itself was based on a ’60s silhouette, but since trench coats from that time only hit the hip, we looked to the ’70s for length inspiration. It’s the only piece of clothing in the film that isn’t period-correct.
“We built that with the cinematography in mind, and the movement and action of our actor. The key was that coat needed to move.
“I didn’t know LaKeith was going to run across the car in it, so it turned out to be so amazing.
“The lining of that coat was picked intentionally; it’s a satin lining because I wanted it to pick up light. It has that great contrast to the gray of the coat.
“We built that coat, and the hat; his hat was something we found in a costume house.”
“Underneath that coat, he is wearing an old suit. The suit is too short for him. He’s got raggedy dress shoes and sweat socks. Not even dress socks. So it’s a façade.
“Once the hat gets knocked off, you can see that this guy does not have his shit together at all. He’s a mess. He’s just been feeling it all with this hat and coat, so when that hat comes off, you see that in his character. He’s just this kid dressing up. I had this idea that he either took that coat from the closet of an uncle or a member of his family and that he stole it. I imagined that he took it and the person didn’t know because we don’t know how he got it.
“His costumes drive the story and signify what’s going on in the story and how time is moving. You can tell time has passed because he has new clothes. So, I gave clues about that through my designs.
“You start to see green because he’s starting to get more money from being this informant. I used green to show that greed. It’s also the color of the lining of his jacket, and we worked green into the opening.”
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