Monique Coleman’s ‘HSM’ character wore headbands because they did her hair poorly

Hope Hicks meets with members of Congress

Before the racial justice movement last year, Black models and actresses were already talking about the challenges they faced on film sets and photoshoots with makeup artists and hair stylists who were completely unprepared to style them. Those stories came out more and more last year though, to the point where I was just left… shocked. It’s been happening for decades, where makeup and hair stylists – professionals, and likely union workers – were completely sh-tty at their jobs when it involved styling Black women. Models of color spoke about how makeup artists simply never had makeup for anyone other than white women. Hair stylists in fashion and film never bothered to learn how to do hair for anyone other white women. So this story is about Monique Coleman, who starred as Taylor McKessie in High School Musical back in the day. The Taylor character was known for wearing a lot of headbands. The reason will break your heart.

Monique Coleman says her signature headband look in High School Musical was the solution to a bigger issue – inexperienced styling of a Black actor’s hair. The actress, 40, who played the role of Taylor McKessie in the Disney Channel films, told Insider that her character always wore statement headbands because stylists did her hair “very poorly.” A rep for Disney Channel did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.

“We’ve grown a lot in this industry and we’ve grown a lot in representation and we’ve grown a lot in terms of understanding the needs of an African American actress,” Coleman said. She then revealed, “But the truth is, is that they had done my hair, and they had done it very poorly in the front.”

The High School Musical alum says she ended up suggesting to stylists that they “incorporate headbands into her character” and “just make that a part of who she is” because they didn’t have time to fix her hair in time for filming. Although Coleman had to hurdle the obstacle of advocating for better hairstyling, she was happy to be a role model for Black teens and children watching the movie.

“I’m really grateful to have been someone who was able to bring representation at a time where there wasn’t very much, and I’m so happy when I see this next generation of young artists and there just being so much more room for people of color,” she said.

More specifically, the actress shared that she was happy about how her character lived outside of stereotypes. “Taylor is such a dynamic character and the smartest person at school and all of that at a time where, often, Black girl characters tended to be the ones who had an attitude or to be sassy,” she said. “And I appreciated that that wasn’t why people loved Taylor. They loved her because she was smart and supportive.” Coleman added, “So knowing that this generation got to look up to her really is special for me.”

[From People]

I’m really aghast at how professionals stylists were allowed to be this awful at their jobs since the beginning of time. I mean, to get hired to work as a hair stylist on a big Disney Channel show with actors of all races and hair types, and you just completely abdicate a huge chunk of your job by not knowing how to do the hair of several actresses? WTF? But honestly, if the Disney Channel had seen it as a problem, they would have fixed it. They didn’t see it as a problem. And that’s the larger issue.

Hope Hicks meets with members of Congress

Screencaps from ‘High School Musical.’

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32 Responses to “Monique Coleman’s ‘HSM’ character wore headbands because they did her hair poorly”

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  1. Yup, Me says:

    One of the things I have been most excited to see come to light in a really clear and illuminating way in recent years is how much positive branding and promotion can benefit a group and how its lack can be detrimental to a group. White folks have gotten a lot of very loud and aggressive positive branding for many years while other groups have been ignored or deliberately branded in harmful and negative ways.

    For years, we have watched positive promotion and branding help white people take up A LOT of space and air time in every arena. Now, we are transitioning to more Black, Brown, POC, non-white people saying “I’m tired of white folks sucking up all the resources and air time. I want to see myself reflected in the world around me and in my entertainment and aspirational promotion. I want to see us winning, and falling in love and thriving and succeeding and also failing and trying again and being magical and all the other things possible in a story. And I want to see our beauty celebrated and appreciated and understood and highlighted. And if studios won’t create the vehicles and storylines for that to happen, we will.” And viewers are responding to it (and how!). It’s thrilling to see.

  2. justtiffany says:

    I binged the Winx show on Netflix, and while I loved the show I couldn’t help but wonder who was in charge of hairstyling. while the white characters (even the guys) hair was perfectly done. The black girl’s hair was horrible. Her braids looked like they were done by someone who had no idea how to braid or they braided it at the beginning of filming and never bothered to redo it. As a black woman and as somone who braids hair this was really disappointing to see.

  3. Amy Bee says:

    Anytime you see a Black actress wearing a wig on camera it’s because there’s nobody to do her hair and/or the producer doesn’t want the actress to wear her natural hair.

  4. Snuffles says:

    It definitely continues to be an issue. You can tell when a show has black hair and make up artists and the ones that don’t. Shows like Black-ish, Grown-ish (Zoe’s hair styles are TO DIE FOR!!), Black Lightning or Insecure seem to do well.

    Where on shows like The Flash they keep giving Candice the same tired blow out and she has complained at not only the lack of variety but how much it damages her hair.

    • sa says:

      “Where on shows like The Flash they keep giving Candice the same tired blow out and she has complained at not only the lack of variety but how much it damages her hair.”

      Wow, she’s the female lead on The Flash and they can’t be bothered to hire someone who can do her hair without damaging it? That’s beyond outrageous. (to be clear, I’m not saying it would be okay for them to damage her hair if she wasn’t the lead, just that I would be less shocked).

      • Ana170 says:

        I think in her particular case, they won’t allow her to wear her natural hair. Add to that, that they don’t know what they’re doing.

        As I’ve learned over the last couple of years. Most of the time when you see black women on TV or in movies who’s hair looks nice, it’s because they’re coming to set with it already being done.

  5. Noely says:

    This is just one of millions of similar stories about Black models/actresses being styled poorly because stylists couldn’t be bothered to do any research on how to style Black hair or skin.

    That also means actual Black stylists who already have experience in styling Black people aren’t hired as frequently as white ones.

    • lucy2 says:

      That has to be incredibly frustrating for the actresses.

      A huge company like Disney couldn’t hire another stylist for her? This show raked in the cash for them.
      And why are productions hiring people or teams of people who are not fully experienced and skilled to meet the needs of their casts? If the set designer said “I can create all kinds of spaces except offices” they likely wouldn’t get the job.

      I hope with this being something that is discussed more openly, we start to see some change.

  6. HK9 says:

    Why can’t these production companies just hire hair and makeup people for their black actors? Gawd…

    • Deering24 says:

      Because they. Don’t. Want. To. As well, makeup/hair is as nepotistic and biased as any Hollywood below-line union.

  7. Helonearth says:

    Good grief- where is the joined up thinking?

    These productions know who they hire – if any of the cast is black it would be common sense to ask make up artists and hair stylists before they are hired if they have the required skill. Plenty of actors have dyed their hair for a part – would they send them to a hairdresser that had never dyed hair before?!

    On the subject of hair, it has always struck me as nuts in a movie where they spent £30 million, they will slap what looks like roadkill on a lead actors head. It’s so obvious and distracting.

  8. FF says:

    This has been going on for nearly half a century.

    Frankly, I hope makes it clear how much “hair and makeup” frequently means: white hair and white makeup; and, not you Black people, by default.

  9. ce says:

    So, I just want to speak to a couple points as someone who has worked in film for about a decade now: the issue is two-pronged: we didn’t HIRE poc with enough regularity to *need* to know how to style them until very recently (and I mean ‘need’ in a sarcastic way mind you); but also, the STYLE that producers lean to has -again until very recently- been that same blown-out, non-textured (aka eurocentric) style that Monique has above. Like, only in the last three years or so have I seen ANY actor come to set with their natural texture or braids. It was always, always, always, this ‘loose curl blown away from face’ thing for YEARSSSS. Anyway, the good news is you do see it changing in hiring practices and in education behind the scenes.

  10. Amelie says:

    The black actress Tati Gabrielle on Chilling Adventures of Sabrina also did her own hair on that show. There is a sped up video on her IG where you see her using her own fingers to do the signature “waves” (I don’t know what else to call them) that the character Prudence has on top of the bleached gray/white hair. There is another black woman who comes in at the end to help her but for the majority of the time she is the one styling it with her fingers. Apparently she’s the one who came up with the look herself and wore it to her audition and the producers like it so much they let her keep it. (I also just learned she is half-Korean while looking her up!) It’s possible she wanted to do it herself since she had ownership of the look but it’s still problematic that she had to spend so much time doing it herself.

  11. nicegirl says:

    Thank you for this

  12. Oh_Hey says:

    What makes me so upset is that black stylists know how to style black hair and white hair and everything in between. It’s the messy double standard that white stylist don’t need to to learn that either in beauty school or on the job.

    Netflix while great in some respects is trash in the black hair department. The wigs and weaves in seven seconds and Siempre Bruja were atrocious enough to take me out of the story.

    • ClaireB says:

      I also find this shocking. How does any beauty professional who has been trained or gone to school *not* learn about every hair texture? I thought that’s what you went to school for!

      • Deering24 says:

        ClaireB—the same way fashion professionals learn/insist that thin white bodies are the only ones worth designing clothes for. This stuff starts in too many schools.

  13. ethyy says:

    Ugh this is so frustrating that they would do that to her and I’m glad she’s speaking out about it.

  14. Alison says:

    As a white woman with very curly hair, I am surprised to hear this is still happening! Producers need to plan for people of all ethnicities on their shows! The truth is simplest is best. Black hair, curly and natural, is a lot like white peoples curly hair. They should bring in the right stylist or give the talent money to do their hair with their expert. Not just anyone can do my hair! And I’m super pale so makeup is the same. I end up looking super tanned. It’s not a good thing to draw in viewers. But good for her to build her character like that. She turned something really crappy into character development. 😀

    • Jane Doe says:

      Alison, untrue. Their is an incredible range of hair textures for Black hair. It can require a lots of very specialized knowledge to deal with the range of textures that is natural or straightened Black hair to prevent thinning breakage and bald spots, but hair stylists should have to learn this, the same way their learn a whole range of skills for styling non-Afro hair.

    • Lboogi says:

      I’m very sorry to have to break this to you but… White people curly hair is nothing like Black people natural/textured/curly hair. Maybe some Biracial people with very loose textured curly hair is similar to White curly hair… but that’s where the similarities end. Black people (full Black) have hair textures that run the gambit of textures. Like Black people our hair is also not a monolith and should be handled by people who know what they’re doing.

      It’s actually a little offensive that you are equating the two…. your curls will never have the same negative social, racial, economic weight that my natural hair (or even my straightened hair, weave, or wigged hair) does

    • Peri says:

      LOL. There’s an entire chart dedicated to the different kinds of hair textures Black people can have, it is most certainly not “like curly White people hair.” It is not offensive to recognize that there are differences in hair between some ethnicities, what is offensive is for someone to call themselves a hair stylist and not know how to do all kinds of hair, especially when you’ve got a sweet gig working on a movie set.

      Hairstylists know, for example, that the hair of the average Asian person is harder to “lift,” aka dye lighter. There are stylists who almost exclusively do Black hair (although I’m sure they’re equipped to do other ethnicities as well) because of how many different textures there are and how many different braids, twists, locs, etc one can do on Black hair.

      I’ll never forget when I was getting my hair cut a few years ago, and a Black client walked in after me (I am not Black). The woman who was doing my hair groaned quietly and I asked her what was wrong, and she whispered under her breath, “I have to cut her hair next, and she’s Black!” I remember being shocked, and if it hadn’t been for the fact that half of my hair was cut while the other half was still in progress, I would have picked another spot.

  15. Veronica S. says:

    What really gets me is how many of them just don’t want to learn, especially in the age of ready online information access. So you’re a MUA who doesn’t have as much experience doing very dark skin tones…YouTube that shit??? Talk to other professionals??? Practice??? Like, this isn’t rocket science. Hair I can see being a little more challenging because it’s easy to heat damage curlier hair textures, so…hire a specialist who excels at textured hair?? Let more black women wear their hair natural instead of forcing it to conform to more Caucasian hair styles?? There’s just such blatantly easy solutions to it that you really can’t justify it as anything but overt racism.

  16. MissMarierose says:

    This. Is. Racial. Discrimination.

    And I think that needs to be spelled out in every article about this issue.

  17. BnLurkN4eva says:

    I think the problem is ongoing. I watched two Christmas movies over the holiday on Netflix with Kat Graham and in both films her hair was unfortunate to the point of distraction. I loved the one with the calendar, but the wig was so bad, I kept mentally trying to yank down the back to settle it back in place. Come on, we can do better than this and it pulls you out of the movie, which one presume they don’t want.

  18. Anna says:

    Black folks need to boycott tv and film with f-ed up wigs and hair situations. It’s maddening.