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Interview: ‘The Other Black Girl’ Costume Designer Kairo Courts

Onyx Collective’s thriller comedy series “The Other Black Girl” is now streaming on Hulu in the United States and on Disney+ in many countries including the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia. All 10 episodes dropped at once.

Adapted from the best-selling novel by Zakiya Dalila Harris, the series follows Nella, an editorial assistant, who is tired of being the only Black girl at her company, so she’s excited when Hazel is hired. But as Hazel’s star begins to rise, Nella spirals and discovers something sinister is going on at the company.

The ten-episode series stars Sinclair Daniel, Ashleigh Murray, Brittany Adebumola, Hunter Parrish, Bellamy Young, Eric McCormack, and Garcelle Beauvais.

Disney Plus Informer recently had the chance to chat with the show’s costume designer, Kairo Courts who shared the process of bringing these characters to life and more.  Read on for the full interview below.

I’m really excited to talk to you about your work on the new series “The Other Black Girl.”  I watched it and loved it. I thought it was so different than your typical drama series. But first, I was wondering if you could start by telling us a little bit about your background in costume design and what other projects you’ve worked on in the past.

Well, my background is a little untraditional. I went to school for marketing but met a friend in college who brought me along with her on a music shoot.  I was like, I don’t think this is me.  And then she’s like, well, you know, there’s movies. And so I thought oh, yeah, I can try that.  She said, you’re pretty fashionable. At that time, I didn’t know that costume design wasn’t really about fashion but I took a chance and I interned on a show called The Hebrew Hammer. So old, but I never look back from there.  I did that for free and I went every day.

From there, I just got job after job.  The interesting part of my career is I haven’t done costume design just full time all the time and I think that that’s helped in my creativity because I’ve had other careers.  I’ve been a police officer. I’ve been a visual merchandiser. I’ve been a bodybuilder.  I’ve been a lot of things. I sound like I’m 80 years old, but I’m not.  But I think it all helps in telling stories because the focal point of all these jobs are people watching and understanding personalities and people and that has helped a lot in my career in costume design.

That’s how I started and the projects that I’ve worked on… most recently I did Naomi, which was a DC Comic on WB. I have another show that’s coming out called Turtles All the Way Down, which is another novel that should be coming out sometime next year. But I think what people really know me for is Atlanta because we won a Golden Globe during my season and that was really, really fun. But I’ve done fun projects where I wasn’t actually the lead, which was like Hunger Games and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. I’ve done some interesting stuff.

How did you become involved with “The Other Black Girl?”

Well, actually I read the book because I have to travel a lot back and forth.  I live in Costa Rica but I work out of Atlanta most times.  I was in the airport and I saw the book and I was like, oh this looks interesting and I bought it and I was like this is a calling because a friend of mine who’s also a producer called and she said, are you interested in this show, it’s coming out and she told me the name. I was like, I just read that book and she was like while you’ve already started the research, you should interview. That’s pretty much how it came about.

One thing I loved about the series was the great characters. How do you create the character’s wardrobes to complement their personalities so well?

It’s interesting when you read a novel and then you read a script. Of course, I read it before I even thought that it was something I was going to costume design so I had all these characters in my head as we all do when we read a book and some of them were not what I thought that they would be after speaking with the writer, Zakiya.  I was like, oh, that’s an interesting way of looking at that. And then we had other creatives come in like our showrunners and our producers and then of course the actors came with an opinion of how they think the character is.  It all kind of fuses together and that’s the beauty of collaboration and building these characters because it’s a little bit of everyone’s opinion and interpretation of the characters.  So it’s not just solely mine. I have some thoughts in there, but then the idea is to work with a team of people to come up with the perfect character.

Nella’s wardrobe in particular was kind of soft and neutral in color and almost blended into the background which was a little bit like her character in the beginning.  Was that something that was done intentionally?

Well, the color of the show is really intentional. A lot of the color is from corporate America.  So they are muted in subdue colors and Nella is supposed to fit in.  She’s supposed to be like wallpaper in there, but something we do still understand is that she’s not like everyone else.  So you may see little bits of pops of color until Hazel is introduced into the scene and she tries to emulate her.  But yes, her wardrobe is lacking a lot of color, a lot of style..because she’s trying to blend into such a mundane environment.

I want to talk about Hazel because I especially loved her outfits. Were her pieces shopped or were they specifically designed for her?

Alot of things when we do series are shopped. There were pieces that were created between myself, my tailor Shane Keith, and my ACD, Paula. I think it was Episode 107 or 108…in the episode, we did a full creation for her and that’s the pink mud cloth when she’s having a dinner party at her house.  That’s all original. But a lot of things were mix and match. A lot of black designers were incorporated.  I think that was the irony behind it because we want to think that Hazel is all for the black community, but it’s really a facade.  So there were a lot of black designers used and then there were the original pieces that we were able to create throughout.

You kind of touched on this, but how closely did you work with the director? To create their vision for the character but also have the freedom to do your own creative ideas. What’s that process like?

Well, it’s a little different from television than from film. In television, we have guest directors and then we have directors that are also producers and they stay a little bit longer and do a little more episodes than the next one. Mariama Diallo is one of our directors and she had started the series and then she came back at the end so she had the most episodes out of all the directors that we worked with and she had some great ideas that we started out with.  So Mariama and I got the privilege of establishing some of their looks when the other directors came in and they had to kind of go with how the train was moving already.

But we sat down and we really talked about what it means to have these ladies dress fashionably not fashionable and what the audience would like to see.  So it’s all thought of when we’re sitting there brainstorming.  It’s not just, oh these are the characters and this is what we see.  We also think about what does the audience want. What does the book call for because sometimes things are written in a script and it says she has on a black jacket and she takes it off like… does it need to be a black jacket? And why is it a black jacket? Let’s figure out the story.

Was there a particular clothing or wardrobe piece that was your absolute favorite?

It had to be the the pink mud cloth but there’s another. I don’t know which episode it was, but I know that they had an event for Wagner at a convention center and Hazel wears a skin-tight multicolored maxi dress with this cropped zipper vest and I absolutely love this vest.  I’ve had this vest for almost 15 years in my kit and I never use it.   I’m always trying to use it and my ACD was like you bring that vest to every show and we never use it…it’s so avant-garde and out there, Kairo…I don’t even know if we’ll ever have a chance to put this on.  But when she had the dress on, she kept saying, it feels like, you know, it needs something else.  And I was like, I have something and I went and got that vest… everybody loved the vest.  And there’s no brand to it. I wish it were, but it’s 15 years.  I found it in the thrift store. I love that vest so in turn, I love the outfit.

 So finally for my last question, what did you find was the most challenging aspect for you while working on this project?

I think the most challenging was Wagner. It was trying to figure out how our background could stay background but still look real and believable because once you suck the color out of a room it starts to look a little stagey. We had to figure out what colors we can use and how these people are moving about.  We have other employees who work in Wagner and we had to also figure out how they can still be principles and be seen without getting lost in Wagner with all the muted colors. So that was one of the difficult things and it’s a period piece as well.  So it was finding these colors, for 1980s. And if you know 1980s, it was all about neons and it was very colorful.  So trying to find those pieces for our background for our principles that weren’t poppy and fit well into Wagner’s world was one of the challenging things, but we accomplished it.

“The Other Black Girl” is executive produced by Rashida Jones, Adam Fishbach, Zakiya Dalila Harris, Jordan Reddout, Gus Hickey, Tara Duncan, and Temple Hill’s Marty Bowen and Wyck Godfrey. Jordan Reddout and Gus Hickey also serve as co-showrunners. “The Other Black Girl” is produced by Onyx Collective.

You can watch the trailer for “The Other Black Girl” below and read our review here:

Michelle Beck
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