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Black Actors Are Still Forced to Style Their Own Hair, Despite Their A-List Roles

Hollywood is the oldest film industry in the world, originating more than 121 years ago. And given recent headlines, it seems that the U.S. film industry is still stuck in the past — especially when it comes to race and gender. Aside from misguided casting debacles and a general lack of representation among minorities that still prevails, there are ongoing issues for those who do manage to be cast in films and television shows. According to numerous black actresses, there are too few hair stylists with the experience necessary to work with natural looks. Subsequently, these actresses are forced to do their own hair for major projects, which many point out is a form of discrimination that continues to go unaddressed.

On average, a person will shed 50 to 100 hairs in a single day. But for these women, it’s the hair that remains on their head that proves problematic for many stylists. Normally, actors will get the star treatment and will have their hair professionally styled prior to filming. But that’s not the experience many black artists receive when they come to set. Tweets composed by Gabrielle Union, Natasha Rothwell, Yvette Nicole Brown, and others provided some insight into #ActingWhileBlack earlier this year, many of them showcasing how actresses of color are essentially forced to arrive with their hair done or bring their clip-ins and wigs in tow to avoid looking “crazy on screen” (as Brown put it).

That’s because there are too few black stylists in the industry — and too few stylists in general who are familiar with natural hair. Although 57% of organizations view employee retention as a problem, it seems like Hollywood isn’t too concerned about whether or not their stylists are properly trained in all situations. And because unionized projects often don’t allow talent to provide their own stylists, these actors find themselves stuck with unqualified stylists who think they can simply “figure it out” once they’re in the chair.

As Gabrielle Union explained on Twitter: “What a lot of non-industry folks don’t realize is that you can’t just use your normal hair stylists/barbers/makeup artists on a union job (most jobs are union). Those artists have to be in the union and getting them in has never been easy or smooth. Ever.”

So to avoid the possibility of looking unattractive on screen or even dealing with major hair damage as a result of inexperience, actors often have to take a DIY approach. In many cases, they may also have to provide their own makeup — an extra burden that non-POC may never have to take on. Although 40% of people have scars from acne by their mid-teens, most professional makeup artists can work their magic and cover up anything from scars to under-eye circles. But for black actors, this isn’t always the case. Because there aren’t always foundations provided that will match their skin tone, many black actresses decide to bring their own to avoid looking too red or too gray on screen.

Fortunately, things may be starting to change. Although black artists are still experiencing issues in this arena, their willingness to speak out has had legislative effects. After Viola Davis, Lupita Nyong’o, and Kerry Washington spoke out about poor media representation of natural hair and the lack of qualified stylists who can work on black hair, New York and California have both signed laws that ban racial discrimination on the basis of hair texture. Last month, California Governor Gavin Newsom and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed laws that expand the definition of race as it pertains to hiring practices and public education. In California, an individual’s right to discriminatory practices in these areas now includes “traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture and protective hairstyles.” Known as The CROWN Act (Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair), it outlines that many laws and societal norms that we see as professional and appropriate are intrinsically linked to European standards of beauty, while physical traits associated with blackness (like curly or kinky hair) have often been associated with inferiority and inequality.

Still, these laws don’t change the fact that many black stylists struggle to become part of the union and to be hired for jobs. But it’s the hope of those who have shared their stories that things will change. And in the meantime, black actors will often be forced to bridge the gap themselves.


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