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2 Black Stylists Just Won Oscars After Becoming The First Black Nominees In Their Category

A new piece by MSNBC Opinion Columnist Patrice Peck is highlighting how difficult it is for a myriad of talented black artists to obtain the recognition that they deserve. Part of her point is highlighted in the triumphant yet disappointing nominations and wins of two Oscar-winning stylists. Read the article below to see how our present in still part of a problematic past.

David Lee/Netflix

Hairstylists Mia Neal and Jamika Wilson won best makeup and hairstyling at tonight’s Academy Awards, making them the first Black people to win (or even be nominated) in the 40-year-old category.

Both are being recognized for their work on “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” a Netflix film about a fictionalized recording session of the real-life trailblazing blues singer Ma Rainey, played by Viola Davis (the late Chadwick Boseman also co-stars in his final role), and Rainey’s band in 1920s Chicago. Neal was the head of the hair department and Wilson, as Davis’ personal hairstylist, styled her client for the titular role.

It’s 2021 and Black people in America are still becoming “the first.” The first vice president of the United States. The first to hold a Ph.D. in survey methodology. The first to lead a major broadcast news network. The first Black mayor of Boston. The first Black “Bachelor.” 

Race does not and cannot inhibit a person’s skillset, talents, or capabilities, and yet American history pretends otherwise. But it’s a one-way delusion, given the extensive history of successful white rappers, (blue-eyed) soul singers, blues and jazz musicians, soul food chefs, and any number of other instances of white people doing things originated and dominated by Black folks.

But having recently sat for hours as a young Black woman from Brooklyn untangled, washed, conditioned, blew out, and slightly pressed my tightly coiled and shrunken Afro before plaiting a fresh set of neat, intricate, knotless braid extensions, this particular first in the worlds of Hollywood and cosmetology hits different.

Because Black hairstylists move hair culture forward by introducing the unique, innovative hairstyles and methods born from their communities, and yet continue to face ongoing individual and institutional discrimination, bias, and exclusion within the cosmetology industry and from adjacent ones, like Hollywood and fashion.

A recent Vulture article about “Ma Rainey’s” hair and makeup team details how Neal, a graduate of the Juilliard School of Professional Internship for Wigs and Makeup, magicianed specially imported British horsehair bundles, which arrived encrusted with inactive lice eggs and manure, into a custom wig for Davis’s character to resurrect a piece authentic to what the real Rainey wore.

Sis pulled threadlike strands of hair through teensy tiny holes and secured them with knots, one by one. (Meanwhile, I don’t even have the patience to properly explain the details ofsingle-strand ventilation.)

That’s not to say that only Black hairstylists know and dominate this wig-making method in Hollywood. They’re actually underrepresented in the Make-Up Artists & Hair Stylists Guild, IATSE Local 706, the union that permits beauty professionals to work on film and television sets (roughly 200 of its 1,700 members are Black, a union representative recently told NBC News.)

But there are just too many instances of Black actors speaking out about the negligence, inattention, and discrimination they face from mostly white hairstylists and makeup artists on set to justify this Oscars erasure.

Even my own experiences touch on this discrepancy: As a high school student attending a predominantly white boarding school in a predominantly white town in Connecticut, I remember trying to figure out the least awkward way to ask the woman who had picked up the phone at the JCPenny hair salon at the closest mall if they knew how to do Black hair. (This was before Youtube hair tutorials arrived to help Black girls in a pinch.)

Read the rest on MSNBC today.

Vanessa Roberson

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