Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Blockbuster: Gambian Artisans among Creators of Warrior Costumes for 2022 Hollywood Movie, The Woman King, Starring Viola Davis

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African talent has always been in the hub of global pop culture, where Gambians also tend to showcase extraordinary talent in various forms of entertainment. In a recent publication by Variety, The Woman King Costume Designer Gersha Phillips confirms the sourcing of the production of traditional fabrics from countries like The Gambia.

The application of traditional methods using natural dyes from kola nuts and indigo – a technique which has been used locally for generations – helped enhance the Hollywood production’s aesthetic qualities marked by the outfits (costumes) designed for the female warrior cast of what became a widely popular American historical action-adventure.

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During her pre-production research, the renowned costume designer realized that Agojie warriors in West Africa wore baggy pants during the 1800s time period in which the film was set. As a result, she initially designed the costumes in a style which pays homage to their history, before later incorporating “wrap skirts” which can also be seen in historical archives. Since the characters in the film were going to be moving around a lot during filming, Phillips said that she “had to consider functionality. Everybody had to fight, so we ended up using a stretch-knit fabric so they could do what they needed to do in it.”

Many African artisans have been replacing traditional methods of creating fabrics by using chemical dyes. However, someone like The Gambia’s Musa Jaiteh continues to be one of the few still using only natural dyes along with traditional techniques; and because they had to create thousands of costumes using handmade techniques, the Hollywood production team were left only with the option of sourcing fabrics with these traditional African methods as much as possible. “Our skirt fabric was authentic. It’s called a ‘drum print.’ That was made by a gentleman (Musa Jaiteh) who printed that. We did a lot of that indigo wax method of printing and things like that as well,” Phillips said.

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