, 2022-10-29 12:30:00,
A new renaissance in hairstyling and makeup for Black actors appears to be on the horizon, thanks to the work of female artisans on a trio of recent period films: “The Woman King,” “Till” and “A Jazzman’s Blues.”
Braiding, twists and locs were a staple for characters in Gina Prince-Bythewood’s “The Woman King,” set in 1823 in the African kingdom of Dahomey, now known as Benin. Hair department head Louisa Anthony researched and collaborated with locals in South Africa to secure a stellar team on the movie, which stars Viola Davis.
Although a historian and a research specialist were on set, there was very little available photography from the period, so the makeup team relied mostly on sketches. “Google search was quite helpful in going back to discover hundreds of years of African hairstyling and braiding for us to attempt to blend today and yesterday into one creative look that maintained the authenticity of the Agoji tribe,” Anthony says.
Knowing that Black hair in its natural state can sometimes lack moisture, the African women on Anthony’s team provided juice and berry products and palm oil. Having a Black woman at the helm of a film is a rarity, and Anthony especially enjoyed collaborating with Prince-Blythewood and executing her vision.
“There was a sense of connection with African women warriors, the sisterhood struggle, power and legacy they stood for,” Anthony says. Both women aimed to keep the film as authentic as possible, while “being mindful in how we wanted these images presented on-screen,” Anthony adds.
By comparison, there were many more images of Mamie Till for artisans to draw upon while researching her appearance. Emmett Till’s mother was active in the civil rights movement after her son’s lynching, giving speeches for the NAACP that were documented in photos available online. Mamie Till was a stylish, sophisticated, educated woman with an influential job in Chicago — and star Danielle Deadwyler’s look in Chinonye Chukwu’s film needed to reflect that.
“In the ’50s, hairstyles were achieved by doing pin curls, paper bags and rollers,” says Deaundra Metzger, hair department head. “In essence, Chinonye just wanted to reflect who Mamie was at her core.”
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