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So many virtual events these days open with video segments such as trailers, highlight reels or video testimonials that help introduce the forthcoming program. Tuesday afternoon’s “Hair and Makeup Equity — Changing the Industry Standard” did just that, opening with a series of testimonials but unlike most, this segment wasn’t a blip that barely registered for participants.
It featured more than a dozen Black actors sharing their experiences of dealing with bias, racism or microaggressions while on set and it was so powerful that it nearly moved the moderator to tears. Storm Reid opened the segment by saying, “As a young Black girl, it is enough to have to struggle with confidence about your hair and then to go on a set where you’re supposed to be taken care of and nurtured and to have people there that are not as educated or qualified to do people of color’s hair is disheartening.”
What happened to Meagan Good wasn’t just disheartening, it was painful. “When he went to press my hair, he put a metal comb underneath the comb and that comb slipped out and the pressing comb basically burned my forehead,” said Good, adding that it was frustrating to be used as an “experiment” by a stylist who didn’t know what they were doing.
Dule Hill said he’s been forced to do his own hair “more than once” because out of all the stylists employed on a production “no one knew how to do hair that looked like mine.” Lamorne Morris shared a similar experience: “I would have to go to the barbershop at 4/4:30 a.m. before set to get my haircut. When I would get to set, I would see everyone else in the hair and makeup trailer getting their haircut. When I asked why I couldn’t get my haircut at work, it was because — this is what they told me — they didn’t have the budget for my hair.”
After the video testimonials, moderator DeVon Franklin, a producer and former studio executive, was meant to introduce the panelists and start the live event, which was presented by the Producers Guild of America in collaboration with Management 360, Gersh and SAG-AFTRA Foundation. But he too upset.
“I watched that video and it’s not right,” he said, fighting back tears. “People of color in 2021 are still being treated like we live and drive and work out of the back of the bus. I am sorry, I gotta keep it real — I cannot believe that we are in this moment right now. We as a people and as an industry, we have to change.”
Franklin then told those tuning in that if they were not for change, “you can respectfully leave.” He continued: “We are tired. We are tired of [giving] all to this business and not being treated equally. It is long overdue. We are not riding the back of the bus any longer. We have to get equal representation and equal opportunity for our art, for our hair and for our makeup.”
That was the topic of conversation for the event — how to create, foster and facilitate a more inclusive environment for hair and makeup artists and the actors they work with. Joining Franklin were Paul Garnes, head of physical production for ARRAY Filmworks; IATSE board member Randy Sayer; veteran hair department head Camille Friend (Black Panther) and showrunner Julie Plec (The Vampire Diaries).
Panelists (below) included (moderator) DeVon Franklin, @ARRAYNow's Paul Garnes, IATSE's Randy Sayer; hair dept head Camille Friend and showrunner Julie Plec. "We are tired of [giving] all to this business and not being treated equally. It is long overdue," said Franklin. pic.twitter.com/Tg0ilwOkVZ
— Chris Gardner (@chrissgardner) May 12, 2021
They gathered at a time when the industry continues to reckon with representation in its ranks and that extends to hair and makeup trailers across town, spaces where Black actors say they continue to face discrimination or are often not treated with the same level of professional care as white colleagues. Another issue, which came up repeatedly during the event, was the barrier of entry for artists of color to find work and secure membership in the hair and makeup guild.
Friend fielded the first question from Franklin, and she said has sat on Zoom “and cried for hours” with actors as they shared grief over not having the right conditions on set for their hair or makeup. “These are things that are common,” said Friend, who has worked on seven Marvel films and is currently prepping the next Black Panther installment. “When actors or actresses get to me, they almost fall into me.”
As a department head, she said the change will come when there are more people who look like her in those roles but what often holds black artists back is that they are often only hired to work on actors of color. If given more chances to work across an entire cast and build up their resumes, she said more artists of color will be able to rise through the ranks.
Garnes, who said he was “truly touched” by the testimonial segment, works closely with Ava DuVernay who has made it a mission through ARRAY to employ some of the most inclusive crews in town. “Hair and makeup is a big important piece of that,” he said, adding that even if the head of that department is not a person of color but there is a person of color on the cast, there needs to be an artist under employ who can meet their needs.
Not having the right hairstylists on set is a problem Plec faced years ago. She shared the anecdote and accepted responsibility by saying, “I was as much a part of the problem as anybody else.” The story went something like this: A Black actor needed a barber on set but they didn’t have one. A line producer made the request to the studio but the studio declined by saying that they would not hire “a personal hairstylist” for one person.
“For them, it was money. It is always money,” Plec explained of the studio’s M.O. It was suggested that the actor find a barber off-site and he would be reimbursed, an inconvenience that other actors don’t often deal with. Plec said she just accepted it and moved on to the “next 900 problems” that showrunners are saddled with throughout the course of a day.
“My flaw in that situation is that I gave up. I fought the good fight and it went up the ladder and the ladder got too busy and I let it go,” she continued. It’s a lesson Plec said that she and her white counterparts are now learning, how to be better advocates and “proper champions.”
That means today, when she employs an actor of color, No. 1 on her list is making sure they feel surrounded by comfort so that the whole crew can work in harmony with one another. “I have the power and platform to make big changes and big demands,” she said, but she often has to remind herself to rely on her confidence to fully step into that power.
Representing the union, Sayer said he feels the situation is turning around but there is more work to do. One of the most pressing issues facing the union, he said, is the difficulty with getting barbers in the union, something that he hopes to get on the next contract negotiation in 2024. “Producers have not shown a great deal of enthusiasm to add another classification,” he said.
Later in the discussion, Garnes said the responsibility falls on everyone. “It’s not a union problem, it’s an industry problem,” he explained. “And that’s a pervasive problem that stretches from the low man of the totem pole to the people who run the studios. … Honestly, I think we all have to take ownership of our part in this process.”
Plec agreed and said that as the industry moves forward, it will require everyone to do their part to ensure a more equitable playing field. “It’s a full-court press,” she said, one that would benefit from all the unions and guilds working in tandem to not only make sure the right people are getting hired but that there is proper training and opportunities available. (Friend pitched her Hair Scholars program as an option ready to educate the next generation.)
Once everyone aligns with a “commitment to do better,” Plec said, “then we can think about what are the barriers to entry at the bottom because if you can’t get in you are never getting up.”
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