In the 30 years that the Academy Awards has included a Best Makeup and Hairstyling category, a Black woman has never been nominated. This year, for the first time ever, hairstylists Mia Neal and Jamika Wilson became not only the first Black women nominated for that Oscar but the first Black women to win it.
For their remarkable work helping to transform Viola Davis into the historical title character in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Neal, the film’s hair department head, and Wilson, Davis’s personal hairstylist, beat out the hair and makeup teams for Mank, Pinocchio, Hillbilly Elegy, and Emma to take home top honors and make long-overdue history.
“I wanted to say thank you to our ancestors who put the work in, were denied, but never gave up,” Neal said upon accepting the award, telling the audience about her Tuskeegee Airman grandfather, James Holland. “And I also stand here as Jamika and I break this glass ceiling with so much excitement for the future. Because I can picture Black trans women standing up here, and Asian sisters, and our Latina sisters, and Indigenous women. And I know that one day it won’t be unusual or groundbreaking it will just be normal.”
Staying true to Rainey’s real experiences, Neal created horse-hair wigs for Davis to wear in the acclaimed film. They served to brilliantly complement the makeup work of Sergio Lopez-Rivera, Davis’s personal makeup artist.
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