The Politics of Fashion in Judas and the Black Messiah

Fashion has always been fun. It’s given generation after generation the ability to relish in fun clothes and express themselves in ways unimaginable. But even the most devoted fashion lovers, myself included, are not always aware of how style is tied to cultural, political, and social movements worldwide. While it’s so much easier to pretend like a new trend doesn’t have a long history of cultural appropriation or that marginalized communities haven’t long been excluded from the narrative of beauty on- and off-screen, the truth is that it’s impossible—it’s everywhere. 

That truth unfolds in a captivating and bone-stirring way in the film Judas and the Black Messiah, directed by Shaka King and written by Keith and Kenneth Lucas, Will Berson, and King, which is available now on HBO Max. The narrative follows Fred Hampton (played by Daniel Kaluuya), chairman of Chicago’s Black Panther Party chapter, chronicling how the FBI targeted and eventually murdered him by blackmailing one of his fellow party members, William O’Neil (played by LaKeith Stanfield). While you may be wondering what exactly this film has to do with fashion, I’m here to tell you that, like all cultural movements, The Black Panther Party used style to convey its political beliefs. And the movement still impacts every facet of the world today, from your most beloved pop culture moments (Beyoncé’s Coachella performance) and accessories (ahem, the beret) to political policies in place today. 

With that in mind, we spoke with the film’s costume designer, Charlese Antoinette Jones, to learn about what went into creating costumes for this film, the meaning behind the party’s style, and how this story is more relevant today than ever. But first, a little about Jones.

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