“She opened a lot of doors for us,” “Judas and the Black Messiah” costume designer Charlese Antoinette Jones says of Ruth E. Carter’s
historic Oscar win in costume design for her work on “Black Panther.” “I’ve seen more people requesting Black designers this year — definitely due to her win, but also partially due to the social climate. Even me being considered [for awards] right now is due to her winning and laying this groundwork.”
Francine Jamison-Tanchuck has logged more than 40 years in the industry, with the Civil War epic “Glory” marking her first film as lead designer. But she says she’s often faced skepticism from an industry that sought to pigeonhole her talent. “At one point, there was that
feeling of ‘Does a woman know how to capture a war film?’ I thought, ‘Watch me,’” she recalls.
The pair detail their Hollywood journeys, discussing the triumphs and challenges they faced and revealing how they learned to defy expectations as Black women behind the scenes.
What movie or costume inspired you to become a designer?
Francine Jamison-Tanchuck: I’ve been designing and making costumes since I was 7 years old. I started doing things on my dolls, and I started making my clothes to match, and vice versa. I’ve always been a movie buff. I saw Dorothy Dandridge’s “Carmen Jones,” and I thought, “Wow, what an interesting profession to express yourself.”
Charlese Antoinette Jones: I was into old period films and a couple of epic films. I grew up Christian and was allowed to watch [only] certain movies. I remember watching “Ben-Hur” over and over for the costumes. I didn’t realize this was a career until I moved to New York.
Who opened the door and mentored you?
Jamison-Tanchuck: There was an opportunity that was starting through affirmative action, inviting people of color to come into the industry. I applied and got into the program from 450 applicants. I was an apprentice and had to work at four different studios within a year, and I made $100 a week. My mentors were Bernard Johnson and at one point I worked on a film with the famed Edith Head.
Antoinette Jones: The biggest hurdle for me is the fact that I wasn’t able to secure a mentor. I would see white people who were walked through the steps — getting that help and moving up quickly. [But] I was fine moving at the pace I was moving because I wanted to learn as much as I could.
Charlese, with “Judas and the Black Messiah” you had to re-create the look of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton and his followers. How did you go about doing that?
Antoinette Jones: The majority of the clothing was vintage. We were sourcing clothes from all over the country. We were eBaying like crazy, finding vintage pieces. We were shipping clothes from L.A. I went to Fresno and met a vintage dealer. He had a warehouse of ’60s [clothing]. I filled my van. That’s the part of my job that I love. It’s so much fun — the procuring and the research.
Francine, “One Night in Miami” centers on a reimagined conversation among Malcolm X, Sam Cooke, Jim Brown and Muhammad Ali. That meant that you were also designing costumes to evoke a similar period in civil rights history. What was your approach?
Jamison-Tanchuck: My dad was a huge Sam Cooke fan. I remember how Sam Cooke was on the front of these albums and how he would look so wonderful and handsome.
I also worked as an assistant to [“Rain Man” costume designer] Bernie Pollack in Las Vegas, and during that time there was a tribute to Joe Louis, and every boxer known to man was there. I saw Muhammad Ali in this wonderful tuxedo coming through the lobby. So those things I recall.
When was the first time you remember feeling seen for your work?
Jamison-Tanchuck: When our peers are excited, it’s very rewarding. [But] I remember when my nephew saw “Glory” in school, he stood up and said, “That’s my aunt Francine.” I got a little embarrassed because I thought, “Does my name have to go from one end of the screen to the other?”
Antoinette Jones: Yes! You have to take up space. My name takes up a whole screen. And maybe that’s the answer to the question about Black women as well — we just have to unapologetically keep taking up space.