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Hollywood's hair, makeup, costume departments lack diversity, creativity 

Hair and makeup are prominent mediums of self-expression. In the 1800s, it was a marker of social status. By the 1980s, they were a means of freedom and creativity. Cyndi Lauper inspired many to create hairstyles based on their inner selves. The 1990s saw waves of innovative hairstyles from Black celebrities, pioneering iconic hairstyles that added depth to characters. The 2010s marked a revolution in the makeup industry that saw groundbreaking inclusivity in its products and campaigns. 

It is almost unimaginable that with decades of creativity and diversity, the 2020s are marked by bad style decisions. 

Some movies, like "Barbie" and "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever," have received massive praise for their costuming, but they appear to be outliers rather than the standard. 

Why is proper costuming on the decline? 

The costume departments that have sparked controversy

The 2023 live-action adaptation of "The Little Mermaid" faced controversies over casting and wardrobe. Some were complaints rooted in prejudicial bias. The movie's makeup department also received backlash for its rendition of Ursula's makeup (played by Melissa McCarthy). In the original animated film, Ursula's character design was based on Harris Glenn Milstead, known by their drag queen stage name, Divine. Many members of the LGBTQIA+ community felt insulted that the likeness of one of their pioneers was being used. Still, no one representing their community was behind the scenes in the makeup department. 

Peter Smith King, the makeup designer who created Ursula's modern look, expressed great offense at the backlash.  

"I find that very offensive," he said. "Why can't I do as good a job as a queer makeup artist?”

He added that contrary to the original movie, he did not base Ursula on Divine. He said the look was a culmination of conversations between himself and McCarthy.

Recent controversies surround Netflix's live-action adaptation of "Avatar: The Last Airbender." Many expressed disappointment in the actors' hairstyles, citing the lack of realism as creating a disconnect with the audience. Some even praised M. Night Shyamalan's 2010 live-action adaptation for its costuming despite its problematic storytelling and whitewashing. 

Princess Yue, a notable character in the series, was relatively accurate to the animated series, but the costumes lacked originality, something its 2010 predecessor mastered in its rendition. 

Stylists show an inability to adapt

The beauty industry lacks diversity. Even with the leaps in inclusionary makeup and hair care products, the application process could be much better. In 2020, Aisha Dee, star of the show "The Bold Type," spoke about the effort it took to get someone in the hair department who knew how to style her hair. 

"It took three seasons to get someone in the hair department who knew how to work with textured hair … I want to make sure that no one else ever has to walk onto a set and feel as though their hair is a burden. It is not.”

Nia Long spoke out about her experiences as a Black woman on set. Telling Variety that she would carry her makeup in a Ziploc bag just in case the makeup artists didn't have her shade. 

"I think the unions need to be responsible for the amount of diversity there is in the hiring," she said. "Producers, studios, and networks, need to have a mandate, where the hair and makeup trailer is diverse … If you have a Black lead, bring a Black person into that hair and makeup trailer." 

Even more Black actresses spoke out after actress Kat Graham spoke out about her natural hair journey and the toll her hair took to conform to Hollywood's standards.

"For 'Vampire Diaries,' I'd worn a lace front for many years. So the glue, the wig clips, the pulling, and the braids were hard on my hair. I am so done. I just want to have a master 'fro.”

She also said she "hopes that one day I can play a character that I actually look like.”

Her beautiful testimony to self-love and acceptance sparked conversation and created a space for Black actresses in Hollywood to share their experiences. 

What could be better? 

In 2023, Vogue covered how stylists need more training with diverse hair textures in the modeling industry. The need for staff prepared to work with diverse skin tones and hair is still prevalent in the industry. Currently, in the U.S., there isn't a national requirement to learn Black hair care in cosmetology school, but some states are changing this. 

Louisiana and New York became the first states to require Black hair care to be taught to all hairstylists. While this is progress, those are just two states out of 50 in one country out of hundreds.

Designers and brands in the fashion industry are also taking it upon themselves to create inclusive environments for BIPOC models. Some are training makeup artists and hair stylists to specialize in varying hair textures and skin tones, setting an example for all institutions that produce makeup and hair stylists. 

More representation and creativity are needed on television and movie sets. Marketers should no longer be allowed to sell art, ideas or products to consumers without input from its member groups. A lack of originality can also be attributed to many of the issues behind the scenes in Hollywood.

Diversity and creativity make costuming special; being able to create characters and give them a visible voice and distinctive look is powerful. Good hair and makeup teams can bring culture to life. Without either, costuming loses its power. 


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