"Being Othered in a Hair and Makeup Trailer": An Oral History of Styling and Beautifying Black Stars in Hollywood

White hairstylists backing away from doing Black hair. Makeup artists resorting to mixing special FX product. Black style and fashion veterans recount struggles, yet signs of change are peeping through: "Even the way folks email me now feels more aware."

Because of the bad experiences she had with white makeup artists early on in her career, Cicely Tyson says that she has never watched herself onscreen. "By the time we were finished, we looked gray rather than Black," the Oscar-nominated 95-year-old icon tells THR. "It was very uncomfortable to look at yourself because it didn’t look like me."

While much has changed since Tyson came onto the acting scene during the 1950s, many Black actresses are still bringing their own foundations with them. And though such Black shows as Insecure, Greenleaf and Queen Sugar have fostered inclusive sets with style pros proficient in working with Black hair and skin, as Gabrielle Union’s recent travails on America’s Got Talent attest — she alleges she was told her hairstyles were "too Black" by producers last year — to this day, actresses say that on sets with predominantly white casts, they aren’t provided with hair and makeup people who know what they’re doing. "The fact that this is happening says that I don’t matter," says Sheryl Lee Ralph.

For this look at the fashion and beauty issues in Hollywood, THR spoke with 20 Black actors, makeup artists, hairstylists and stylists — including the first-ever Black makeup artist and first-ever Black hairstylist hired by the studios — about everything from double standards ("For some reason, we’re not as trusted") to allegations that Hollywood’s hair and makeup union is not inclusive enough. Says Yvette Nicole Brown, "It’s always a fight. Now the question becomes, why is it a fight?"

In the late '60s, there weren’t any hair and makeup pros of color in Hollywood.

Bernadine Anderson, the first Black Hollywood makeup artist (Clients: Jane Fonda, Eddie Murphy) I came in the business in 1968, and I was a militant back then and marching in the streets. I got beat up and thrown in jail, and then I tried to get into Hollywood like a crazy person. I filed a lawsuit against all the studios. They had a closed-door policy. The suit never came to fruition because they gave me an apprenticeship. I knew it was about keeping my mouth shut. I did. I was the first Black and first woman to break the union. My makeup case is in the Smithsonian. Even when I was in the union, you couldn’t get in the door. It was, "Oh no, we don’t hire you all." Or you’d get actors who said, "No, I will not let her touch me." It really hurt me, but as my mother always said, "Consider the source and move on."

Robert Louis Stevenson, hairstylist (Angela Bassett, Samuel L. Jackson) I came in around 1969. The makeup artists were men — in neckties and white shirts — and the hairstylists were women. I was the first Black that they hired as a hairstylist in Hollywood. There had been an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission study: Of the 19,000 people working in Hollywood, 400 were minorities, and most of those jobs were clerical or janitorial. The government was trying to force the studios to start a program for minorities. But the studios wanted to do it their own way. I was going to lunch from my salon one day, and I heard on the radio that they were looking for minority hairstylists. I worked two years before I got into the union. The unions were slow to change, but the studios were trying at that time.

Anderson I was Jane Fonda’s personal makeup artist. She requested me. What she did was she called the union and she asked for a woman, and I was the only woman. She was twice as happy. She got a woman, and it was a Black woman.

Stevenson One of the things that they used to keep a lot of minorities out was, "Can you do white hair?" I said, "Sure, I do white hair." So the head of the department got a magazine with a picture of a Gibson Girl, and he asked me, could I do that? There was an actress who had her sister with her, and he said, "Do you mind if he does your hair?" I did her hair for 10 minutes, and I knocked on his door. He said, "Oh, great, you can do white hair." Blacks have to do Black hair and they have to do white hair. Whites, all they have to do is white hair.

Since the days of Dorothy Dandridge, Black actresses have compensated for unskilled on-set beauty pros by coming prepared — and they still do.

Sheryl Lee Ralph, actress I was very young, and it might have been on Falcon Crest. There was one Black makeup artist, and he gave me a complete professional makeup kit, the kind that they use in the union. He said, "Honey, make sure you take this with you on every job." I still have that case.

Stevenson The Black actors knew that whites didn’t know how to do their hair. Even Dorothy Dandridge had to go to an outside hairstylist. Most of the Blacks in those days didn’t have their hair done at the studio. A lot of actresses would have their hair done before [coming to set]. And the same thing happens today.

Ralph It took me one time for them to burn my hair because they couldn’t get it straight. I said, "Never again." So I’m always prepared. I usually go in to work done up. If you’re No. 1 or 2 on that call sheet, you have some say in who’s coming into the department. But if you are 3 or 4, you’d better come prepared. That’s why you bring an arsenal of wigs because most times they can handle the wigs. And most times you incur that cost. I cannot believe that at this point in my career, this is still happening with such regularity, and it bothers me. What it says to me is my needs are not important enough to be taken seriously.

Lynn Whitfield, actress Early on in my career, you walked into a room, and it was a completely Caucasian beauty squad. I’ve had hairdressers want to do a brush-out from wet hair. You don’t do that with a Black woman’s hair. With my Southern Louisiana self, I simply would be baldheaded. It led me to using wigs to avoid that. It was just too traumatic.

Kimberly Elise, actress I definitely take it upon myself to come with my hair in a state where it can’t be touched. Usually I’ll have it in cornrows, and I’ll work with a stylist to find a wig that suits the character. That’s an extra step on my own time. As actors, we shouldn’t be spending our energy on these things. I should just be able to focus on my character.

Whitfield They usually start off with colors way off from my skin tone, and that immediately reads as something crazy onscreen.

Yvette Nicole Brown, actress I cannot tell you how many times I’ve walked into a trailer and seen every foundation color of alabaster, ecru, pearl and beige, and then one brown. I had someone once take out a special effects palette and start to mix it together, some white and black. There are 20 shades of white foundation, and you’re using special effects makeup for me?

Terrell Mullin, makeup artist (Cynthia Erivo) Actresses come in halfway done: "I’ll do my own foundation to make sure I look right on camera." Or they’ll bring the actual colors they know will work so they are not playing Russian roulette once they get in the chair. When I’m on a show that’s predominantly white, the Black actresses come in and they see me as if they are seeing Jesus for the first time and they flock to me.

Kim Kimble, hairstylist (Beyoncé, Zendaya) Some [hairstylists] will look petrified. They’ll say, "It looks great just the way it is." So they don’t have to touch their hair. That’s the wrong thing to do.

Dawn-Lyen Gardner, actress That’s the conversation we’re having: the experience of being othered in a hair and makeup trailer. We internalize being unwanted, being compared with European beauty standards.

Brown They will look at you like we are some strange creature that beamed in from a different world and now they have to figure out how to manage this strange creature and its hair. It’s ridiculous.

Gardner It’s really, really painful. It can distract you. It can affect 12 more hours of your work that day. That’s what I and most of my colleagues who are Black and of color have experienced.

Brown It’s hard to perform when you know you don’t look your best, there’s a camera, and you look to your left and right [and] your castmates who don’t have melanin are at their absolute best.

Hollywood’s hair and makeup union long has been perceived as unwelcoming to Black pros.

Ralph If you are working in the South, in Atlanta and New Orleans, there is a whole slew of talented, qualified folks of both races, Black and white, that can do everybody’s hair.

Whitfield There’s just a great wealth of talent in Atlanta where we shot [OWN’s] Greenleaf. All of the hair and makeup were African American, and it was an African American show, and there’s so much appreciation that we’re not a monolith and there are so many specificities of the hue of someone’s skin and the texture of someone’s hair.

Anderson That’s the reason why most of the Black people who work in Hollywood moved to Atlanta, because they couldn’t get a job in Hollywood.

Mullin In Hollywood, it’s hard as hell to get into the union [IATSE Local 706].

Ralph That says to me this is on purpose. You are trying not to let them in, and we need them. The union needs to open up.

Larry Sims, hairstylist (Gabrielle Union, Regina King) I’m not union. That’s an ongoing conversation. Gabrielle Union and I have worked with each other for over 15 years, and I still have not been eligible, according to the union. They invited me to be on an assistant roster — it’s laughable, for all of the accomplishments I’ve been able to achieve in my career.

Brown Larry Sims can do hair like nobody else.

Sims You would think that the five years I did with Gabrielle on Being Mary J would be an automatic, but no. It feels a bit old in terms of their standards, and it doesn’t feel as inclusive as it should be. No matter how many awards I’ve gotten, they are like, "No, not yet, you still need one more thing." To get in this union, it’s pulling teeth.

Brown For the most part, my needs have been met. The union doesn’t care; the producers at NBC or ABC or Disney+ do. But the union makes it so hard for people to get in that even if the production says you can pick your person, it’s hard to find a union person who can do it. Thankfully, there are more Black people on TV shows — but for every Black-ish, any person who’s proficient in Black hair and makeup is working on those shows. The more shows we have, the fewer artists we have. I’m not saying they have to be Black. They have to be proficient. The union needs to allow these people in, and they are not doing it.

Felicia Leatherwood, hairstylist (Issa Rae, Lenny Kravitz) It would be great if we’re able as a union to set different guidelines of what’s required to get in so that the actors don’t feel stressed out.

Gardner The reality is that there needs to be more of a pipeline for Black stylists to be credentialed, including hiring from a diverse database and new conversations about mandating expertise across hair textures.

Nikki Nelms, hairstylist (Zoë Kravitz, Beyoncé) I am always amazed how a production can spend big to have every type of food in craft services or build any type of set, but they won’t spend to protect their star’s hair.

Gardner We shoot [Queen Sugar] in New Orleans. I’ve had the incredible fortune for the last five years of working on a set where it was baked into the vision of this show to respond to the needs of a diverse cast. Ava DuVernay, our show creator, comes from the publicity world, with very thorough thinking around storytelling. She’s paid exceptional attention to making sure that the hair and makeup department is deeply versed in all different hair textures, styles, hair care and skin care that our cast needs. It wasn’t until I was on another set that I remembered the experience of walking on set and getting nervous and feeling like my time in the hair and makeup trailer was spent on alert. All the tension in my body came back.

The hurdles are higher for Black hairstylists and makeup artists to become department heads.

Sims I’ve seen it happen where a white department head was brought in on a film with a mostly Black cast, and she barely touched any hair. She was able to become department head with flying colors, without question, but it is difficult for us to be Black and to be a department head of a white show. For some reason, we’re not as trusted.

Mullin It’s easier for them to get our shows than it is for us to get their shows. We have had to jump through hoops to convince them we can do white hair and makeup.

Ralph Trust me, if you get a Black artist, they can do everybody’s hair and makeup. Because we have to go through your system. You understand what I’m saying?

Sims I’ve never done any television where I have been given the opportunity to style someone white. And Victoria Beckham was my start. Her bob was the first thing that got me attention from beauty brands. Everyone wanted to know who was behind The Bob. I always say to my agents, "I don’t want to be known just as the Black hairstylist." They would go out and pitch. At one point, I had to style a white publicist’s hair as a trial for them to introduce me potentially to their clients. They curated this glam day for me to prove that I can style Caucasian hair. But that didn’t get me far.

Sheika Daley, makeup artist (Beyoncé, Zendaya) When I began, there was no Instagram. You actually had a real portfolio with real pictures in them. But agencies warned us that we should not have too many Black talent or else we would be pigeonholed as only doing Black talent and there was not enough to survive. Today, it’s same-but-different: If your portfolio has too many Black people, they will still only want you to work with Black talent, but there is thankfully much more now. This is a big change in a positive way.

Ashunta Sheriff, makeup artist (Taraji P. Henson, Jennifer Hudson) Taraji definitely has the red carpet rolled out for her now, but she still has to fight for herself and the other Black women she has around her. This can mean making sure her trailer is right or getting the right hair/makeup team — the fight is still harder for her as a woman. But she is always a voice for us, too!  Because every Black actress who breaks those glass ceilings is truly making it easier for those who come after them.

Daley Artists of color still have to advocate for people like me to be part of their teams for major projects. So in many ways things have really not changed. I can remember 15 years ago, I was working on a project with Serena Williams — and she had to fight for me to be part of her team. The client wanted a white team. They said they "trusted them with Serena" even though she wanted people who knew her hair and skin. But she fought and she won.

Ted Gibson, hairstylist (Gabrielle Union, Lupita Nyong’o) Vogue wouldn’t hire me to do [client] Jessica Chastain for the cover, and they wouldn’t hire me to do a Black actress cover. They would hire a white hairdresser to do that cover with a Black actress. It never made any sense. [Editor’s note: Vogue responds, "Vogue works with many BIPOC contributors, including stylists and hair and makeup artists, and aims to grow that list even further. In August, Vogue committed to the 15 Percent Pledge to hire more Black creatives."]

Sheriff The world is not hair literate, and this is still very much a problem — especially for women of color, who can end up with their hair severely damaged. Publications will sometimes insist on using their own team, but we’ve literally had situations where we had to stop mid-shoot because they didn’t understand Black hair; they were not hair literate.

Gibson For me, I had to do white girls in order to create the level of career that I wanted to create, that I couldn't just do Black girls, and my white counterpart didn't have to do Black girls to make their career the way that they wanted. And I know that I had to fight harder to get the same kind of recognition as my white counterparts.

Autumn Moultrie, makeup artist (Viola Davis, Kerry Washington) I have been on sets where the person in power, the person being shot, has put her foot down and insisted that the glam squad comes with her. With L’Oreal, we did a huge campaign in 2019, and Viola [Davis] insisted that I be included, and it ruffled some feathers, but she ended up getting what she wanted.

For Hollywood hairstylists, Black hair is still either being fought against — or appropriated.

Tym Wallace, hairstylist (Taraji P. Henson, Mary J. Blige) I want to see more appreciation instead of appropriation. Black beauty is a huge influence on the world today, with looks and styles that are a part of our culture and lives for years. [They are] taken from us, renamed and reinvented by a white hairstylist or white makeup artist or white fashion designer. It’s an ongoing struggle, to say the least. I want to see you acknowledge your inspiration. I don’t want to see the next model in cornrows and you naming them something else because we all know where cornrows come from. It hits so hard because a lot of Black actresses and music stars, when they wore cornrows, they were considered ghetto. Then it becomes a thing when the Kardashians or a white music star wears them, and it’s [called] boxer braids. I would love to see proper credit.

Sims We just shot a magazine cover where Gabrielle was finally able to wear her natural hair. She continues to fight the good fight for representation and inclusion. We want to be able to look the way we look without having to conform to society’s idea of what is deemed to be beautiful. Gabrielle came from looking like a Barbie, the weave, the long hair, the beach waves, the fighting against her texture. For America’s Got Talent, we made a conscious decision to use that platform to be a visual for brown and Black little girls who could see themselves in primetime. All of the styles that we chose were intentional: super textured, super Black styles that celebrated our culture.

Brown I’ve been natural my entire career. Now because of the CROWN Act, we’re all allowed to wear our hair how it grows out of our head. Imagine that.

Kimble We had a natural movement when everybody wore an Afro back in the '70s. [Then] we went from natural to Jheri curls. Now Issa Rae on Insecure wears a lot of natural hairstyles. All the millennials are so into natural hair. Even Beyoncé, when I started working with her, her hair was very European-esque. With Lemonade, she started to go into more texture and braids. I think natural is here to stay. To me, it is about self-expression and style.

Black stylists contend with designers declining to work with their clients and white stylists taking credit for looks they’ve established.

Tod Hallman, fashion show producer and former stylist I came up in the industry with stylist stars like Phillip Bloch and Jessica Paster and am very aware that my career was harder because I am a Black man. I also spent time working in PR, and I saw how few Black publicists were out there; this was always part of the problem — white publicists choosing to work with white stylists even when the talent was Black.

Misa Hylton, stylist and fashion designer (Missy Elliott) I started [as a stylist] in 1991. I was working with Jodeci, Mary J. Blige and Heavy D. They were known in our communities but not known in mainstream music quite yet. So the high-end designers didn’t see any value in working with us. The good thing was that we had large budgets then, so it was easy to buy [clothes]. But you don’t get to view any collections, you didn’t have the advantage of having something new and unseen. If we were white, it would have been a different story. By the time I began working with Lil’ Kim, I could pretty much go to any showroom I wanted to. She was in every fashion magazine, and everyone couldn’t get enough of her. I was being flown around the world to go to fashion shows. I was front row at the Versace show. Fendi was one of the first fashion houses that really embraced us. It was a complete 360.

Kithe Brewster, fashion designer and former stylist I was based in London around 1996. Eventually I took Julianne Moore as a personal client and moved to New York. Women’s Wear Daily has always credited me with making her a fashion icon. I took her down her first trip nominated for the Globes and the Academy Awards. I really broke that barrier because I was approved by the fashion houses to pull whatever I wanted — but I saw resistance when I wanted to use things on the rapper Eve. I simply had so many great actresses who were Caucasian on my roster that I used to say, "If you don’t let me use your brand for Eve, I’m not coming to see you for Julianne."

Hylton You know what was really fucked up back then? I would create the looks, and my clients would get to a point in their career where high-end campaigns would want them. My look would be emulated, but I wouldn’t be able to style it. A white stylist would be brought in. It looked like their creativity and imaging that they came up with. That was bad.

Hallman When I began in this business more than two decades ago, it was harder for darker skin actresses to get an amazing dress unless they had a truly colossal project going on. Sure, there were a few fashion darlings like Thandie Newton, Kerry Washington or Halle Berry, but it took Lupita Nyong’o for things to change. When she arrived on the scene, designers were clamoring to dress her. She was this fantastic dark-skinned princess, and the Prada gown she wore for the 2014 Oscars caused the tides to turn.

Cheryl Konteh, stylist (Idris Elba, Kate Winslet) I’ve been incredibly lucky. I’ve never ever had problems getting clothes. I do know a lot of Black stylists have problems. That certain celebrities have found it incredibly hard to get a decent outfit for a prestigious awards ceremony, I find shocking.

Elise I’ve been told by stylists that it can be very challenging if you aren’t recognized as crossover — meaning, that white audiences recognize you. Designers aren’t as interested in dressing you.

Whitfield I have always presented the glamour, but as far as being approached in the last decade or so [by fashion houses] — never. And I wonder whether it’s because I wasn’t on network shows.

Konteh Brands need to understand inclusion is beneficial for the bottom line. That old saying, "Black doesn’t sell," it’s so outdated.

Moultrie The fact of the matter is, there are 7.8 billion people in the world, and 700 million of them are Europeans. That’s 10 percent, so the other 90 percent has to be represented.

Style pros agree that there have recently been signs of change.

Nelms The moment really does feel different right now; so many of the injustices that went on behind closed doors finally feel like they are coming out into the light. Even the way folks email me now feels more sensitive and aware. People used to tiptoe around issues like race; now they are more in the open.

Hylton You can’t unsee what you’ve seen now, especially this year. We finally have this opportunity to share what we’ve been going through. There were so many white people who didn’t know.

Moultrie It’s amazing to look around and see so many people of color on shoots. I recently had this epiphany when I worked with Naomi Osaka, and the hair person was Marty Harper, a Black guy, the stylist was Luxury Law, a Black guy, and me and Naomi; the only person who wasn’t Black was the photographer. For all three of us on the glam squad and the artist to be of color is a new thing. It’s different from 20 years ago when I was the only person of color on the set.

Cydnee Black, YouTube beauty content creator I uploaded my first video in 2013 and started taking it seriously in 2015. And since then, [I’ve been] doing it for a living. There weren’t a ton of Black creators, and that was one of the reasons I wanted to do it. It’s definitely grown, and we’ve seen the space become way more diverse than it was when I started.

Sheriff Younger people today are still more hesitant to speak up for themselves in uncomfortable situations, but I see white actresses less afraid to speak up and be vocal about their views. African-Americans are not as comfortable doing this, but I am happy that this is changing.

Gibson I wish that I would have had Black mentors in my field. There were none. The people that I had to look up to, who I wanted to emulate, were white, straight men. It was Vidal Sassoon, Horst Rechelbacher, the founder of Aveda, it was Paul Mitchell, all these straight white men. I didn't have anyone Black and gay to look up to. I hope that what I've done in my career is something that the next generation of hairdressers can look up to, to see what can be accomplished, because I didn't really have that.

Mullin Now so many Black actors are fighting to get a good team. I’m part of [client] Cynthia [Erivo]’s contract. She’s not doing anything without her own hair and makeup. We did The Outsider on HBO; she brought us in. Now we are shooting the Aretha Franklin project for Nat Geo.

Gardner It’s not just about vanity: There’s an assumed superficiality when we say hair and makeup. But the reality is that it’s an incredibly visual medium. Lighting, technology, hair and makeup all work together to create a product that hopefully can be transformative in some way.

Wallace I won’t stop until I see significant change. We’ve seen people put out a statement, "We’re going to include," but things just went back to the way they were. The mistakes are still happening. There is no inclusion. Until then, I’m going to continue to have these conversations.

Emily Hilton and Kirsten Chuba contributed to this report.

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What the Makeup Artists and Hairstyling Union Has to Say 

In response to the lack of union style pros with knowledge of Black hair and makeup highlighted in this article, Randy Sayers, business representative for the Make-Up Artists & Hair Stylists Guild IATSE Local 706 writes to THR that "Talks are ongoing between the IATSE and SAG-AFTRA on this very subject," and that the meetings are working to address "those concerns brought forward by our Black, Indigenous, Asian and other persons-of-color talent — and [to] have frank, open discussions as they relate to our own highly skilled craftspersons."

Sayer further notes that "employers are the sole decision-making entity in 'who gets hired' — both in front [of and] behind the camera. We feel that working together … will afford us the greatest opportunity for change and inclusion. We know that when persons of color are hired ‘above the line’ as producers, writers, showrunners, 'below the line' issues improve." Adds SAG-AFTRA national executive director David White, "IATSE 706 has recently taken several steps recognizing the need to expand the pipeline and to prioritize equity and inclusion [with] clear indication from [IATSE’s] leadership that it is a priority." The hair craft president of IATSE 706, Rhonda O’Neal, recently also started an education program called Beyond the Combs, aimed at better preparing hairstylists, barbers, makeup artists, stylists, photographers and stunt performers for on-set work. Says O’Neal, "I wanted to do more in helping to facilitate other people of color into the union."

This story first appeared in the Sept. 23 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.


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