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‘SuperFly’ Costume Designer Antoinette Messam Balances Fantasy, Reality

With a soundtrack by Curtis Mayfield that permeated pop culture, “Super Fly,” a crime drama directed by Gordon Parks Jr. about a black cocaine dealer, epitomizes the blaxploitation genre that lit up screens in the ’70s.

The remake, set for a June 13 release by Sony Pictures, aims to refresh the vibe. The new “SuperFly” once again follows a dealer who wants one final score before he gets out of the game. In the new version, helmed by Director X, the story takes place in Atlanta instead of Harlem.

Steeped in music videos, Director X was well-positioned to re-create a stylized and updated version of the original tale. To clothe the cast, he brought on costume designer Antoinette Messam.

When Messam and the helmer first spoke about the project late last year, the word “fantasy” was used a lot, says the designer, but she also felt she needed to stay grounded in reality. “This is a very stylized film, a very high-fashion film, both in clothes and aesthetics,” says Messam, who, like Director X, worked her way up in Toronto’s music-video scene. “It had to be relatable to the audience.”

After Messam watched the original “Super Fly,” the fashion choices jumped out at her, but she also felt the main character, Youngblood Priest, played by Ron O’Neal in the original, looked like a real person, and she wanted the same feel for the current Priest, played by the tall and lanky Trevor Jackson. Her aim was for the character to look like a man with style and not someone just off a runway. She wanted the rest of the cast to be grounded in reality, too, though Messam, who’s known for her work on “Creed,” “Jewel” and “After Alice,” allows, “I bumped it up just a notch.”

The shooting schedule on “SuperFly” was short, so she scaled back on her usual mood boards, shared her ideas with the director and reached out to vendors and designers she felt could follow the theme. Her pièce de résistance was a pair of mustard yellow Balenciaga motorcycle boots. “If Trevor could have slept in them, he would have,” she jokes.

The speed with which production ramped up required most of the costumes to be sourced, but there was one jacket that’s the centerpiece of Priest’s look: the Fear of God leather coat. “That costume is so essentially Priest,” she says. “It makes a statement. When I was considering any costume in the movie, I wanted it to make a style statement that says: ‘I’m an individual. I set my own trends. I’m not following what other people wear in the club because I don’t need to.’ That was very important to me.”

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