July 29, 2019

Black Actors Are Getting Huge Roles In Hollywood, But Still Doing Their Own Hair

By Aimee Simeon
“Just come with your hair washed,” were the directions actress KJ Smith received from a director before shooting a commercial a few years ago. “My natural hair wasn’t styled, but I came to set equipped with a clean wig — just in case,” she says. “I showed up and they insisted that my natural hair was fine, but I felt like they were telling me that my hair looked good because they didn’t want to deal with styling it.”
For many Black actresses in Hollywood, Smith’s story is a daily reality. “There are two ways to describe how it feels to sit in the hair-and-makeup chair on an unfamiliar movie or television set: terrifying and high-anxiety,” says Smith. The actress, who has appeared on NCIS: Los Angeles, Black-ish, and Madea’s Family Funeral, says she always comes prepared with her own brush, gel, or wig to pick up the pieces from an inexperienced stylist on set. Michelle Mitchenor, who plays Detective Sonya Bailey on Lethal Weapon, can relate. “Picture walking into a hair salon for the first time and being placed in anyone’s chair — without knowing their background or work,” she says. “That same anxiety is how it feels walking on set.”
Earlier this year, Black actors and actresses, including Natasha Rothwell‏, Yvette Nicole Brown, Malcolm Barrett, Yahya Abdul-Mateen,and Gabrielle Union, took to Twitter to discuss the many horror stories of what they referred to as #ActingWhileBlack. Scroll through the thread and you’ll see hundreds of tweets about poor hair-and-makeup experiences at work. “Most Black actresses come to set with their hair done or bring their wigs and clip-ins with them,” Brown wrote in a viral tweet. “It’s either that or take a chance that you will look crazy on screen.”