Untold Stories: Hair On Set. How the film industry can do better for Afro hair
“I don’t even know where to start. You turn up on set and no one knows how to do your hair!”
Actor Dominique Tipper (The Expanse/Fast Girls) starts with us into an exploration of Afro hair and the treatment of it (or not) in the film industries via Sky documentary, Untold Stories: Hair On Set.
Written and co-directed by Fola Evans-Akingbola (Ten Percent/The Night Agent), in this episode of Untold Stories, we get a behind-the-scenes peep of the added difficulties that Black actors face when getting ready for their roles.
The history of enslaved African women and their hair is littered with examples of methods to ‘tame’, ‘control’ and ‘conceal’ identity. Those tendrils of history still exist to this day, where Afro hair still seems to have an existence outside of and independent to its owner, where people still seem to be…afraid of it!
Through the stories of Fola’s well-known colleagues to include Naomie Harris (Skyfall/Moonlight), Ellen Thomas (Casualty/Mrs Harris Goes to Paris), Cherrelle Skeete (Hanna/Doctors), Nathalie Emmanuel (Game of Thrones/Fast X) and others, we hear horror stories about hair falling out and bad, damaging weaves.
Makeup on set is another minefield. Even in 2023 when cosmetic brands seem to be falling over backwards to stretch their foundation colour pallets…beyond the pale, these strides don’t seem to have transitioned to the film industry. Stories of actors getting up extra early to do their own makeup abound.
Fola also speaks to hair and makeup artists including Kamanza Amihyia, Nora Robertson, and Françoise Hérard, who offer their own experiences and solutions, particularly from the renowned Kevin Fortune.
So, the documentary offers solutions and one of these are to start talking about the issues in the wide open. To paraphrase one of the guest speakers, it’s gonna be a little uncomfortable to begin with, but once we trigger through this, we’ll get to a place where, at least in the film industry, Black women can sit in any professional’s chair and be confident that that professional can ‘do her hair’.
Added to Sky’s solutions is the broadcaster’s commitments to ensure that all Sky Original programming with Black actors will have professionals on set skilled in the care of Afro textured hair and darker skin tones.
To help you get some idea about how actors effortlessly get into character and some of the challenges that may present, over and above being scheduled in the UK’s Black History Month, the documentary is a worthy watch.
Untold Stories: Hair On Set, is available on Sky Documentaries and NOW tv from Sunday 1st October.
The work that we do at Women Of The Lens Film Festival connects us to Black women who are more than skilled in hair and makeup for anyone – let alone that of Black actors.
We showcase these industry professionals in our work. Listen to our Insight to Industry podcast where we interviewed hair and makeup artist Annie Little.
ScreenSkills has a plethora of courses and industry insight content to support professionals and beginners alike, including the sectors of hair and makeup.