In the predawn, Demond Melancon threads a detailed mosaic made of a million tiny glass beads. The stretch of canvas is etched with designs in red, gold, and green—the signature colors of the Rastafarian movement. He’ll continue his needlework long after the sun sets and, eventually, sew patches of the canvas into an apron, a chest piece, and a headdress.
Melancon is the leader of the Young Seminole Hunters, one of many groups whose members spend months sculpting elaborate suits that they’ll wear during Mardi Gras, to honor the roles some Native Americans played in the liberation of enslaved Black people. When the day comes, Melancon is no longer himself: he’s the Big Chief, a title bestowed on the leader of the tribe. The documentary “All on a Mardi Gras Day” follows the loop and swoop of Melancon’s needle as he stitches together his hundred-and-fifty-pound suit for the celebration. Known as “Black Indians,” the participants are “the most beautiful thing in New Orleans on Mardi Gras,” he says.