Remember in 2015 when #OscarsSoWhite was trending? Well, while there are still strides to be made, last night's (April 25) show was a breath of fresh air for the POC community in the non-actor categories. We specifically want to shout out hairstylists Mia Neal and Jamika Wilson who made history at the 93rd Academy Awards. The duo became the first Black women to win the Best Makeup and Hairstyling category for their work on Netflix's Ma Rainey's Black Bottom (alongside makeup artist Sergio Lopez-Rivera). The film stars Viola Davis and the late Chadwick Boseman, but last night the ladies were the stars on stage accepting the award with a speech that recognized their ancestors and the other underserved female groups.
"I want to say thank you to our ancestors who put the work in, were denied, but never gave up," Neal said in a now-epic acceptance speech.
"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."
Before their glass-ceiling-shattering win, they first gained buzz during nominations because, you guessed it, they were the first Black women to ever be nominated in the category as well. Viola was instrumental in making sure that the essence of the real-life Ma Rainey—dubbed the "Mother of the Blues"—wasn't lost.
"She wanted someone who could style her hair and handle it," Wilson told NPR. "African-Americans are familiar with both types of hair, y'know? We just don't do one texture of hair. We can do it all. And by actors now speaking up and saying that they want someone who can handle their hair, they have to bring an African-American hairstylist because there's not very many Caucasian hairstylists that feel comfortable doing African-American hair."
Below are fun facts from the magic behind Viola's hairstyling on-set and the careers of the ladies responsible for that magic.
This is not Mia Neal's first time at the hair rodeo. Before she was Ma Rainey's hair department head, Neal was known for her work on The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) and Uncut Gems (2019). Plus, she already had an Emmy nomination under her belt for Outstanding Hairstyling For A Single-Camera Series - 2019. She's also been widely recognized before having received a BAFTA Award for Best Makeup & Hair in 2018, which she's up for again this year for her work in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom.
Viola’s Go-To Girl
Jamika Wilson goes way back with Davis. As Viola Davis's personal hairstylist, Wilson has countless magazine covers under her belt. The two first collaborated in 2008 during press for Doubt. She later became hair department head for How to Get Away With Murder. She's currently prepping for Davis's new role as Michelle Obama in Showtime's upcoming anthology drama The First Lady. She also worked on other celebrity tresses like those of Orange Is the New Black actress Uzo Aduba.
Neal created over 100 wigs for the film, including two worn by Davis. One of these was a custom-made wig she crafted with European-imported horsehair. The story behind the process that took the actual horsehair strands to Hollywood-level hair perfection is all too real.
First, the bundles had to be rid of inactive lice eggs and manure. She explained in an interview with Vulture, that in order to not lose control of the hair, she had to build the wig before she cleaned it. Neal used a single-strand ventilation method to manipulate the thick horsehair and each time she pulled a strand through, manure and lice eggs were scraped off. Upon completion, she boiled and cleaned it noting that the smell never went away. During the boiling process, the ladies realized the hot water did more than cleanse the hair, it set the style similar to how a modern-day synthetic wig can be manipulated.
"When she passed the wig along to me, we discovered that it really holds its curl," says Wilson. "It also gives the feeling of kinky, textured hair. It was very bendable, so sometimes when there were touch-ups to do, you take your finger and roll the hair around your finger and set a curl there."
You're probably asking yourself why all this trouble? Realism. Raise your hand if you're copping horse bundles.
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Featured image via Jamika Wilson/Instagram