During her four-month lockdown earlier this year, Nigerian designer Tia Adeola made her long-held dream of filmmaking a reality. After debuting her collection at New York Fashion Week in February, Adeola set her sights on turning her next project into a short film. She designed a line of lingerie-inspired gowns and separates in pastel hues—which also served as a concept for her debut fashion film, starring 20-year-old rapper Flo Milli, whose real name is Tamia Monique Carter, and pop and R&B singer Paloma Ford.
“Thinking through this film concept and collection was almost my escape and reassurance, something to look forward to,” she explains about filming the short in New York. Titled “Black Is Beautiful,” the film is a lush portrait of fantasy as home; we see Black women luxuriating on a palatial estate in feminine, ruffled clothes and candy-color sculptural hair. Adeloa says the film was heavily influenced by the imagery in Sofia Coppola’s 2006 Marie Antoinette.
“Marie Antoinette was the queen of France, and though she was frequently chastised and stripped of her personality, she embodied luxury, and still does today.” Adeola also adds that “in a time where the media is flooded with the heartbreaking story of Breonna Taylor and several others, it was important for my Black female case to be seen through this lens of luxury, dressed in luxury, and included in narratives like this.” The collection, as Adeola points out, was all handmade and hand-embroidered, giving the clothes and the women who wear them onscreen an air of royalty. The designer explains that “as much as seeing Black bodies on the internet spreads awareness, we also need to be seen through a different light that reflects the royalty and heritage we originate from.”
When it came time for Adeola to cast her film, she immediately thought of Carter and Ford, the latter of whom walked in the designer’s fall 2020 runway show. “My character is fierce, bold, and sexy,” Carter says of the woman she plays in “Black Is Beautiful.” “I think the most important message behind this film, and Tia’s designs overall, is to be strong, confident, and in tune with your higher self,” Carter notes. “Tia herself is very spiritually in tune and she is all about female empowerment, which is exactly what we need now in the fashion industry.” Ford echoes Carter’s sentiments about Adeola and her powerful designs and, having starred in the film as Queen Marie Antoinette, says that Adeola “loves to see everyone in her queendom win while they lavish in life.”
And despite the fact that Carter and Ford’s characters do have one playful spat in “Black Is Beautiful,” Ford emphasizes that the point of the film itself—as well as the ethos of Adeola’s brand—is about togetherness. Ford says that she loves “that even though the story showed a rivalry between a protagonist and antagonist, Tia was adamant about not showing a real victor,” she says. “It wasn’t about that; in fact, you see all of us come together at the end, which is the real message to women: We come together and we all win.”