Costume designer for Jay-Z's 'Family Feud' breaks down music video's iconic looks
Jay-Z released "Family Feud," the final visual from his latest album, and for once fans aren't talking about him.
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Instead, the short film, which clocks in at around eight minutes, has music lovers and even film buffs excited by the video's stunning visuals, thanks to director Ava DuVernay, A-list cameos, and timely political message.
The music video for "Family Feud" morphs the first family of hip hop into the first family of America as it reimagines a world where Blue Ivy, Jay-Z's daughter with wife Beyonce, is one of the nation's Founding Mothers.
Both ladies star in the video alongside Oscar-nominated actress Jessica Chastain, Mindy Kaling, Michael B. Jordan and Thandie Newton.
DuVernay, 45, who co-wrote the video with Jay-Z, 48, paid homage to her team that pulled the video together in a matter of days back in October.
First: Love to my department heads. DP #AntonioCalvache, Production Designer #InaMayhew, Casting #AishaColey, Make-Up #Lalette, Production #PaulGarnes @TilaneJ, Post @ChristianaHooks, Costume Designer @ThatsAyannaJ. A pic from our production meeting in October. xo pic.twitter.com/aePhhOuprn
— Ava DuVernay (@ava) December 29, 2017
Costume designer Ayanna James, a stylist for Usher, Issa Rae and Derek Luke, was one of those team members. While planning her New Year's Eve wedding in Miami, she got an email from a producer working with DuVernay and signed onto the project immediately — before even knowing the project was a video for Jay-Z.
"'Oh bless your heart,'' James remembered DuVernay telling her during that call. "'You actually agreed to do this and you had no idea.' But this was Ava DuVernay! I didn’t have a choice."
"Ava, to me, she’s just amazing. She is this brilliant creator, who I just absolutely adore and I’ve really looked up to her. That was already such a moment for me and then of course to see that wow this is actually happening."
Jay-Z makes political statements in star-studded 'Family Feud' music video Jay-Z explains why he and Beyonce didn't divorce: 'Most people walk away'
Michael B Jordan in Jay Z’s #FamilyFeud video pic.twitter.com/2bCmcJapV3
— Yoncé Hub (@theyoncehub) December 29, 2017
The story in the video begins in the year 2444 as two siblings — played by Thandie Newton and Michael B. Jordan — fight for power. James said DuVernay wanted a futuristic look and knew the perfect designer to make that happen.
"Ports menswear had that look," James explained. "I thought that would be great because it’s kind of futuristic, but you can see how somebody would wear it today so it doesn’t feel too far removed."
The following scene, showing actors Omari Hardwick and Native American actress Irene Bedard as co-presidents, was "very important" for James. How does a costume designer ensure she's reflecting and not culturally appropriating? James said collaboration was key.
Nobody wins when the family feuds
Didn't you know that the new Jay-Z @S_C_ video is out? @TIDAL
Guess who's in it? ??
Loved working with director @ava pic.twitter.com/ccVhIBtVuZ
— Jessica Chastain (@jes_chastain) December 29, 2017
"I went to traditional Native American stores and made sure that I pulled pieces that were real, and that had meaning, and that I knew what the meaning meant or what it was for," she explained. "And when we were sitting with Irene she actually schooled me, [saying], 'Well this is this tribe, and this is this tribe,' and we worked through it like that."
James emphasized, "It’s a collaborative effort, but making sure that I do proper research [is key,] and that I’m not just going to Etsy and buying something that looks like it could be Native American."
One of the music video's defining moments — after we see peacekeepers played by Emayatzy Corinealdi and David Oyelowo, followed by fighters such as America Ferrera, Aisha Hinds and "Wrinkle in Time" star Storm Reid — is the table of women tasked with reenvisioning America.
‘Nobody Wins When The Family Feuds’. My inner-self makes a cameo in the new JayZ music video directed by Queen DuVernay @ava @S_C_ pic.twitter.com/OChQXdoFaU
— America Ferrera (@AmericaFerrera) December 29, 2017
Led by an adult Blue Ivy, played by "This Is Us" star Susan Kelechi Watson, actresses Kaling, Brie Larson, Niecy Nash, Constance Wu, Rosario Dawson, Rashida Jones and trans activist Janet Mock discuss each amendment, debating whether they'll be taken into the country's collective future.
Aside from the scene's political statements, the costumes dominate as each actress is dressed in every color of the rainbow from white to royal purple to money green to bright red.
"We wanted to see all these empowered women of different hues … different backgrounds, and have everyone with an individual style. I pulled everything, and it was a mad dash on the day," said James, who's also worked on the HBO series "Insecure."
"Nobody wins when the family feuds…" @ava @s_c_ pic.twitter.com/fL6N2yUtkQ
— Rosario Dawson (@rosariodawson) December 29, 2017
James' favorite look was that of Dawson, who wore a "wine-colored" Theory blazer, printed Issey Miyake mock turtleneck, and a broach James got from a costume house.
"She just looked really good," James said. "Because I have a styling background, I’m able to pull looks off of somebody’s energy and how they move and present themselves. Rosario has this super dope energy about her."
The music video concludes with the actual rapper, Jay-Z, in a church with 5-year-old Blue Ivy playing herself and Beyonce as a regal pope. James worked with the couple's longtime stylist Marni Senofonte to achieve their looks.
A post shared by Beyoncé (@beyonce) on Dec 29, 2017 at 7:36pm PST
And DuVernay just had one request for Bey, James said.
"She wanted that tall head piece. So we sent the reference to Marni and said, 'We need to recreate this.' It turned out actually well," she said.