Culture Feature

Black Actors Share Stories of Being Ignored by Stylists

While Hollywood and fashion brands are quick to congratulate themselves for casting people of color, inclusive representation requires diversity behind the scenes as well as in front of the cameras.

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Professional makeup artists can imitate peeling radiation burns in American Horror Story: Apocalypse, make Margot Robbie look like a 53-year-old Queen Elizabeth I, or, even more criminally, transform Christian Bale into Dick Cheney.

But at fashion shoots and film studios, hair stylists and makeup artists are usually there to enhance models' and actors' natural features. While Hollywood and fashion brands are quick to loudly congratulate themselves for casting people of color, inclusive representation requires diversity behind the scenes as well as in front of the cameras.

Sadly, that is not the norm. This week, model Olivia Anakwe voiced a common complaint that industry hair stylists aren't trained to style black hair. Anakwe ended Paris Fashion Week by posting a condemning message to Instagram about her exclusion from the fashion show's styling. In hopes to "spread awareness," she urged, "No matter how small your team is, make sure you have one person that is competent at doing afro texture hair care OR just hire a black hairstylist! Black hairstylists are required to know how to do everyone's hair, why does the same not apply to others?"

Soon, various black actors took to Twitter to corroborate the oversight, which speaks more to the media's history of erasing people of color than sheer vanity. Malcolm Barrett (Timeless) posted, "Most Black actors get their hair cut or styled outside of set, often at their own expense because Hollywood hairstylists are one size fit[s] all and that 'all' does not include Black hair. This has been my experience for the last 20 years in the business & it hasn't changed at all."

Yvette Nicole Brown (Community) added that makeup artists almost unanimously overlook dark skin tones. She shared her personal experience of having to bring her own products in order to receive the same treatment non-ethnic actors receive. "Most black actresses come to a new set w/ their hair done (me) or bring their wigs & clip-ins w/them," she posted. "It's either that or take a chance that you will look crazy on screen. Many of us also bring our own foundation. One too many times seeing no shade that matches you will learn ya!"

The Twitter thread quickly gained attention from both men and women who'd been dismissed by stylists who didn't know how to work with non-white faces. From Gabrielle Union to Gabourey Sidibe, black actors created the conversation simply to create awareness. As Brown posted: "Those of us responding to this feed are sharing our unique experiences #ActingWhileBlack. No one is dying. We have all adapted. Life goes on. ❤️ I just always think it's important to pull back the curtain so you guys know what the real is. This mess is the real!"


Sadly, this behind-the-scenes exclusion extends to all non-white actors. Half-Chinese, half-white actress Chloe Bennet (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) has spoken out against makeup artists who have tried to "open" her almond-shaped eyes. She told Us Weekly, "I really like accentuating my Asian features and the almond eye shape that I have. For a long time, a lot of makeup artists would try to open my eyes really wide and I felt like I didn't look like myself and like it changed the shape of my face,"

Likewise, Olivia Munn noted the same problem in an interview with Byrdie: "I'm Chinese and white, and I actually have more of a Chinese bone structure but more white features, and little things completely transform my face. Like putting shimmer in the corner of my eyes can make me look cross-eyed. There are some people who can wear any makeup style, and they will look beautiful. But for me, I can see drastic changes. Like when I work with other makeup artists, sometimes they'll do the same thing to me that they've done to a lot of white girls, and it doesn't work. They don't understand that rimming my eye in black will just make it smaller."

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To repeat Yvette Nicole Brown, no one's dying from not being styled by a professional makeup artist. However, the oversight underlines continuing inequality between white and non-white performers in media. A production casting people of color is nothing more than a hollow gesture if their representation on screen is not given equal consideration.


Meg Hanson is a Brooklyn-based writer, teacher and jaywalker. Find Meg at her website and on Twitter @megsoyung.


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