Oscars 2021: How Ma Rainey’s Hair & Makeup Crew Created History With Viola Davis

viola davis ma rainey's black bottom

Viola Davis in Ma Rainey’s Black Base. Her hair and makeup team’s Oscar nomination has now produced heritage. Netflix

Reworking Viola Davis into 1920s blues singer Ma Rainey was no quick process, specifically because her group of hair and make-up artists only had two months of planning right before production began on Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. The actress’ dramatic, compelling glance in the long run scored the film an Oscar nod for Best Make-up and Hairstyling — a nomination that has produced heritage with the Academy Awards.

Hair division head Mia Neal and Davis’ personalized hair stylist Jamika Wilson, who are nominated alongside makeup artist Sergio Lopez-Rivera, are the initial Black girls to be nominated in the makeup and hairstyling class at the Oscars. Wilson is continue to making an attempt to wrap her head all around the idea that she’s blazing a path for other women of all ages to stick to, but she’s conscious of how crucial that representation finally is.

“Never in a million several years did I at any time imagine as a hair stylist, accomplishing a little something that I certainly enjoy, that I would be nominated for this award,” Wilson tells Observer, speaking about Zoom with Lopez-Rivera. “And then to make background really just blows my head. I’m just continue to hoping to relaxed myself down and get employed to declaring this. Individuals are like, ‘You know this is a really major deal!’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah it’s a large offer.’ But it ought to have been [history] a lengthy time ago. I’m happy the doors are opening. It opens the door for so quite a few other people who aspire to get the award or to get into the market carrying out hair and makeup. You can accomplish it.”

“I’m like, ‘Yeah it is a massive deal.’ But it must have been [history] a extensive time back.” –Jamika Wilson

“It should really have occurred quicker, but it didn’t and it is taking place now,” Lopez-Rivera adds. “I assume there is a large amount additional value in acknowledging that this is going on now and this will not be the past time this will happen. The world is at any time-evolving, so ideally these factors will not choose so very long to take place any longer. Just about every artist, irrespective of colour, will have the possibility to get the job done — and do operate that they’re happy of.”

A hair touch-up on the set of Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

A hair touch-up on the established of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. Netflix

Lopez-Rivera has been Davis’ personalized make-up artist for a long time, and alongside with Wilson and Neal, he collaborated carefully with the actress on how her character ought to search. They consulted with Davis on her truly feel for Rainey, as perfectly as executing extensive analysis on the singer, the time period of time and what products and solutions would be accessible to Black gals in that era. Mainly because of the small preparing time, Lopez-Rivera swiftly abandoned the strategy of prosthetics, alternatively utilizing make-up and gold enamel to build the aesthetic.

“There’s not extremely quite a few pictures of Ma Rainey out there, so the pickings were quite slim,” Wilson notes. “But there is a really legendary look of Ma Rainey with a gorgeous headband on and the French bangs so we went from there. And we depended a large amount on [costume designer] Ann Roth, who experienced all this data to pour into us.”

“I was shocked to uncover out there was truly nothing available to Black females other than a pair of bleaching creams readily available for dark skin, which in and of alone is sending the erroneous information, and then some terribly chalky powders,” Lopez-Rivera suggests. “Outside of that, Black gals had to make do with whatever was readily available for white women of all ages or what they could make at house. So I took this plan that Ma couldn’t be bothered with searching for Caucasian makeup and trying to make it get the job done. She was a child performer and she joined vaudeville from an early age, so I imagined that was her training wheels. I wished the make-up to reflect that theatricality, but also that home made, jittery, vulnerable, badly utilized but purposefully applied makeup.”

“Viola preferred to make guaranteed that we ended up not attempting to make her search improved. That we were being not hoping to make her glimpse stylish or wonderful. What she advised me was, ‘You can just take this as far as you want and I will be all right. My self-importance will be okay.’” –Sergio Lopez-Rivera

viola davis hair makeup

Viola Davis sits for hair and makeup styling by Sergio Lopez-Rivera (L) and Jamika Wilson (R) on the established of Ma Rainey’s Black Base. Netflix

Davis’ wig in the film is designed from horse hair, which is factually accurate to the 1920s. Neal investigated and discovered the horse hair to establish the wig, and every person on the hair and makeup crew wanted to be as authentic as achievable. All over the movie, especially for the duration of her overall performance scenes, Rainey’s makeup is smudged and dripping, her confront coated in sweat. The idea that she wasn’t involved with touching up her look came from many biographies Lopez-Rivera go through, which includes a person by one particular of her band users. Those people visual descriptions had been “gold” for the makeup artist, who notes that Rainey was viewed as to be the ugliest woman in show organization, who also sweated profusely.

“Those two matters are previously making blocks for my layout for a character’s makeup,” he states. “The very initially time we see her, exterior of the flashbacks of her performances, is when she’s coming out of the lodge. Her makeup is quite perfectly applied in that scene. It’s new, but it is not perfect. It’s a minimal messy, but it is acceptable. But as the working day development she has a poor working day and it’s July in Chicago. She’s not one particular of these precious ladies who’s examining herself in her compact mirror. The tale I informed myself was that she did her make-up at the time and that was it. What you see is the final result of warmth, worry, wrestle, claustrophobia in a visual way.”

Davis even referenced Bette Davis in No matter what Took place to Infant Jane when talking about the make-up structure with Lopez-Rivera, encouraging him to allow her to be messy.

Sketches planning for Ma Rainey's makeup

Sketches scheduling for Ma Rainey’s makeup. Netflix

“Viola preferred to make absolutely sure that we ended up not attempting to make her look far better,” he says. “That we had been not making an attempt to make her glimpse fashionable or stunning. What she instructed me was, ‘You can take this as significantly as you want and I will be all right. My vainness will be ok. I rely on you, take this as much as you think you can go.’ She gave me permission to do this.”

The work on Ma Rainey’s Black Base feels reflective on movie and TV’s new evolution where feminine characters do not have to glimpse pulled jointly or typically wonderful.

“She’s hyper aware that she’s not skinny, that she’s not mild-skinned, that she’s not all of these factors,” Lopez-Rivera notes of the character. “But she’s a performer. And she has access and privilege, within the limitations of staying a Black female in 1920s The usa. She has all this entry and this is what she decides to do with her experience and with her hair and with her clothing.”


Ma Rainey’s Black Base is streaming now. We also interviewed director George C. Wolfe.

Golden Decades is Observer’s very clear-eyed coverage of the awards horserace.

How Ma Rainey’s Hair and Makeup Team Transformed Viola Davis and Made History