"It's Really Frustrating": Black Actresses on the Lack of Hairstylists Who Work With Natural Hair On Set

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When this year’s Oscar nominations were announced, the discussion of #OscarsSoWhite ramped up anew.

But there’s not only an issue with diversity and inclusion within the space of actors, writers, directors, and the rooms that decide whose work is acknowledged with awards. Hollywood's colorblindness also contributes to a lack of people of color on the glam squads brought to set — even on films that star Black women.

During Alfre Woodard’s Oscars Sistahs Soiree at the Absolut Elyx House in Los Angeles Wednesday, we chatted with Laura Harrier, Cynthia Erivo, Kiki Layne, Lashana Lynch, and more about just that — the importance of having Black hair stylists and makeup artists on set, what it means to them to be able to appear onscreen with their natural hair, and more.

“It's so important, and it's really rare, unfortunately,” Harrier said, when we asked her how essential it is to have people of color in those rooms. “I think it's really important for all of the crews to be vocal about that. That this is a real issue, and it's something that's important because you can't walk into set and feel your best if you don't feel like you look how you want to look. It’s really frustrating to have so few hairstylists of color that are unionized, because there's so many talented hairstylists out there, so it's definitely something to push for.”

Generally speaking, if a stylist isn’t union (for example signed up with the I.A.T.S.E. Local 706), they won’t be able to be considered for gigs on those sets.

One of Harrier’s favorite on-set moments with a glam squad was on her 2018 film Blackkklansman. “LaWanda Pierre, who made all of the wigs in that film, was incredibly talented,” Harrier said. “She's this amazing Black woman based in New York, and the hair in that film really created the feel and the style. It wouldn't have been the same thing if we didn't have those kind, incredible pros. Like you just wouldn't have believed it. So, you look at someone like her who really struggled to join the union because it's so insular, and it shouldn't be so hard for someone so talented to break into this industry.”

Lynch also talked about how rare it is to have people of color who are makeup artists and hairstylists on set, and why they are needed. “If I get into a makeup chair and I see someone who is even slightly brown, then my heart sits comfortably in where it should be coming into a makeup chair,” the Captain Marvel star said. “I know there are people in this industry who are caucasian who can do makeup and hair, but to know that there’s a sister in the room, makes me feel like I don’t need to communicate anything with you, you just know. Having a shorthand in the beginning by having a woman of color in the room is what makes us feel comfortable.”

“It’s so crazy to even be asked the question of like how many people of color are you going to see on a film set, but actually that just shows how much work we still have to do,” she continued. “Nothing is cemented yet. These are all shifts that have been happening these last couple years. I'm grateful for them, but until they're concrete, no one can rest.”

Kiki Layne, who praised the work of hairstylist Larry Sims and makeup artist Rebekah Aladdin, says she has started to ask to have African American hair stylists on set who can style her natural hair. “On a project, I’m definitely like ‘um, I’m sorry. Who’s here for me? You want my hair in braids? Who’s doing that?’ But, part of that confidence, and being able to say I need this, was inspired by women in this room,” the Native Son star said. She talked about how many women she felt lucky to look up to in the industry — who were also at the fete — who have told her they make sure to keep specific requests for hairstylists of color in their contract. “There’s so many women in that room who have paved the way or have not taken bullsh*t so I didn’t have to,” she said.

There was a specific moment on the set of the upcoming film The Old Guard when Layne did have to speak up about her hairstyling. “We were over in London, and I said to the producers, ‘Hey, can I get a sister here or at least one regularly, because they had someone coming in to braid my hair, she just wasn’t there every day. And, I was just able to say to them, ‘Hey, can she be here every day?’ They were just like, ‘all right, okay.’ And that was that. They took care of me, and were super understanding, but I still had to say this should be a daily thing.”

Layne, who swears by coconut and argan oil for her locks, is known for her natural hairstyles, and she said it’s “super important” to her to rock her natural hair. “It's important to me to show the versatility of our natural hair, because I remember growing up and being made to feel like, ‘your hair is so unmanageable. There's just nothing to do with it.’ That's why I'm constantly changing mine. I’m trying these short braids now, I've done longer, I've done twists. I just love to show that we can be so creative and so expressive with our hair.”

Cynthia Erivo, who was honored at the event, said it’s important to her that young Black women see her and know that it’s okay to wear their natural hair too. “This is a real part of me and I celebrate it every day and I wear it and rock it in different ways. I hope it sends a message to young girls that they can be exactly who they are, however they want to be who they are, and that it doesn't diminish them at all.”

Those conversations and more about their experiences working in Hollywood took the guests at Woodard’s annual event into the wee hours of the morning, bonding and celebrating each other.

“We celebrate each other regardless of what is going on,” Woodard told InStyle about the event, at which Taylor Russell was also honored. “We give something to each other that the Academy can't give us. Not to diminish that at all, but what we do here is something that only family can give you, and it's something only true colleagues can give you … [We] create the bonds that you can go to them if you need something. That's what we do for each other. The root of that is to come together. And when you do that, everybody is lifted.”

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