Black hair in Hollywood: Black actresses share their experiences with hairstylists in the entertainment industry

Actress DeWanda Wise (Photo by Leon Bennett/Getty Images)
Actress DeWanda Wise (Photo by Leon Bennett/Getty Images)

It's a complicated issue that has gone on for decades.

"First of All, this is a continuous fight that I have, even today. I'm having this conversation right now with my team. It's mindblowing to me that black actresses have to fight to have black hairdressers on set for us," says The Game star, Tia Mowry-Hardrict.

She's Gotta Have It actress, DeWanda Wise says, "I had this experience where I auditioned for a project and I, like, did the whole thing - I styled it for the period, the whole nine. Right? Essentially I got to set and it was very clear that no one could do my hair so they just put a hat on me and I only need to learn a lesson once."

Tiffanny Haddish says, "I did a movie called Keanu and nobody on that set could braid my hair so then I had to go outside of the movie, find people in New Orleans to braid my hair and I ain't going to lie to you, I cried about it."

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Celebrity hairstylist and groomer Andrea Pezzillo says, "I hear this all the time, that actors would talk about going to movie sets... I can't tell you how many haircuts or styles I've had to fix because we'd go on set and the person doesn't know how to do African American hair and yet they're the only stylist there to do it."

Actress Lorraine Toussaint says, "We've all had all our hair break off because of the level of heat... black hair doesn't behave the way white hair does. Our hair is way more complicated and when I'm a series regular... the first question I say (sic), 'can they do a press and curl?' If you don't know what a press and curl is you got to start from scratch. But I would be a liar if I don't say it hasn't been a problem, and it's been tough-going."

DeWanda adds, "The horror stories you hear is that it's more than just someone not being able to do your hair, it's people refusing to pronounce your name correctly, it's people touching this texture with a certain level of trepidation and disgust so it's a deeper issue."

Actress Pam Grier says, "In many instances it's up to the production to say we do have a couple of African American actresses who want to make sure their hair is taken care of. I can't determine what's going to happen but if you have that up to the production."

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Regina Hall says, "As a black woman I think sometimes it comes from people making decisions not understanding the differences. Most of the people that I've worked with, especially in the past eight years, have been very conscious. I've also done a lot of movies that have been predominantly black so I have producers who understand, co-stars who understand. I did work on a movie with co-stars who didn't understand and then we showed up to work with some hair that was unable to be managed and they flew somebody in." 

Lorraine says, "Getting people of colour to the union has been challenging. I have always expressed a very clear desire to have a person of colour, a black hair and makeup person because it is a different sensibility."

"What you're seeing when we're having these conversations about a hairstylist in the unions, you're required a certain amount of hours, you're expected to make those hours with minimum pay and then, for example, in Los Angeles it's like $6000 (about R90 000). So there are rules and systems in place and it's also very 'who you know' so you can imagine that it ends up being this cycle," adds DeWanda.

Black Panther star Angela Bassett says, "There are a lot of artists who do have proficiency with a lot of things but if they continue to study and to train then it can be no big deal but a lot of times you do have to show up ready."

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Sanaa Lathan says, "I know in my experience - I've worked in London, I've worked all over the world - and sometimes you don't know if you're going to have somebody who is familiar with black hair so you'll have to choose a style that will protect your own hair and not ruin it."

"I always say this: it could take five years to grow your hair and it could take one flat iron to break it all off. One, one time. How dare me, as a stylist, not do someone because I haven't learnt to work with your hair. It's not okay," says Andrea.

Tia says, "When you have someone look at you on television you have to make sure that you are represented in the correct way and if you look orange and if your hair is all over the place you're going to be talked about. It's going to be like, 'ohh, who did her hair?' Some people may say it's vein, no, it's not. It's about representation." 

"The generation right before us, they couldn't rock the boat and I can't fault them for that. Like, they could not rock the boat. You would just be blacklisted, you would be cast aside as difficult, as unreasonable. You know, all the things people love to project on a black woman and with our generation. Thankfully, since there are more of us, there are more of us who can say no - no more, and demand what they need. Demand what we need because it's just not fair. It's not fair to be made to feel less when you're trying to do your job." 

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