Antoinette Messam, a Jamaican-born costume designer and stylist, discussed her work on director Jeymes Samuel’s “The Harder They Fall” with the Hollywood Reporter. In the interview, she described the film as “a Western that just so happens to have Black people in it” and noted that her prior experience in the fashion industry made it possible for her to add some modern touches to the traditional styling of cowboys in the film.
Messam used her talents to dress the high-powered actors of what has been called a revisionist Western, providing the costumes for Idris Elba, Majors, Regina King, Zazie Beets, and LaKeith Stanfield. The vision of director Samuel made the Black cowboys, who were real figures in the history of the West, at the center of the story. She told the Hollywood Reporter that her process in designing for the film began with research in books and online to discover how things actually looked during the period in which the film is set. She then did deeper research to determine the basic silhouette of that day. One of her biggest inspirations for the film’s style was finding the same silhouette for Black cowboys in the 1870s and 1890s that links to a resurgence of the style in modern times.
She acknowledged that it was sometimes difficult to work on the film during the COVID-19 pandemic, citing problems with getting supplies while being in a place like Santa Fe, New Mexico, that was shut down because of the virus. She credited Amazon and the Santa Fe Opera for helping her obtain basic things like needles, buttons, and zippers, as well as fabric.
Messam, who was born in Jamaica, comes from a family that was focused on fashion: her grandfather worked as a tailor, and her mother was a dressmaker. She said that textiles were her “first love.“ The designer always loved films and was attracted to costumes in the movies she watched. She knew that she did not want to become a dressmaker, and her grandfather often expressed his anger at her because she was not interested in learning to be a tailor. He would be shocked to see her now, she added.
Messam also told the Hollywood Reporter how her Jamaican community is excited about the soundtrack of “The Harder They Fall” and how there is a sense of pride for them linked to the film project. She noted that what the director Samuel wants viewers to take away from the film is the fact that Black people were there, in the West, and while they may have been erased from history books or school classes, the history of Black people depicted in the film is accurate.
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