Cynthia Erivo: ‘Usually there are no Black makeup artists on a set’


Awards season is pretty much over. However, The Hollywood Reporter Actress Roundtable is just now being released. THR interviewed Cynthia Erivo, Gillian Anderson, Anya Taylor-Joy, MJ Rodriguez, Sarah Paulson, and Elizabeth Olsen via Zoom. The women talked about speaking up in their careers. Gillian said she has championed equitable pay for actresses and Cynthia has been advocating for that along with behind-the-scenes crew who know how to work with her. Particularly a director of photography that knows how to light Black skin, and cosmetologists and hair stylists who can do Black hair and makeup. Cynthia highlights a pressing issue of studios hiring hair and makeup teams that have no idea how to do Black hair and makeup. The push to have representation not only in front of the camera but behind the scenes also puts Black actresses of risk of being labeled difficult for wanting their basic needs met. Below are a few highlights from The Hollywood Reporter of Cynthia’s talk.

I’m a Black woman, and that has a lot to do with how you’re paid, how you’re hired, if you’re hired, the way you’re hired — it affects everything. I’m lucky enough to have a team behind me that is brave enough to ask the questions I’d like asked: What I’m being paid compared to the leading man in the show, or if I’m being paid a lot less, whether or not they are willing to come up so it becomes equal. And about little things in my contract that just make it easier to exist on a set. For me, it’s about having the guts to stick with it and to keep asking and keep fighting.

And there are definitely times where you’re like, “I am so exhausted from asking the same thing.” Like, if we could please have this makeup artist with me because usually there are no Black makeup artists on a set and you’re the only one who needs one, and I’ve had to have that fight every single time I’ve gone onto a set: “I need to hire these two people because they are the only people that understand how to do my face or my hair.” It isn’t about vanity, it’s about making sure that whoever I’m playing is represented in the right way because they understand how to work with my skin tone and my hair. But you keep sticking with it because it’s not just me having my way, it’s me being able to employ two other people.

And then maybe I’m asking, “Can we have a DP who understands lighting that works on my skin tone?” So it’s constantly being OK with asking the questions. And there is a bit of fear, like, “Am I going to be seen as difficult?” And yes, there are times where I’ve had someone say they’ve heard I was difficult, but usually it’s because I’ve asked a question that will make for a better surrounding or a better show. And if I keep asking the questions and if other ladies like myself keep asking the questions, and we keep trying to better our spaces, it just becomes the norm — because at some point it has to just become the norm.

[From THR]

As a photographer I have discovered how to adjust when I am shooting someone with lighter skin versus someone with darker skin. When editing pictures I find I have to warm up dark skin or add a bit more of a golden glow. The fact that the people working behind the scenes are not taking the time to learn to adjust to the most basic of things like Black hair and makeup is appallingly unprofessional. Learning or expanding your skills is a no brainer to me. I don’t understand why a studio wouldn’t want their cast to look and feel good on set. And I definitely don’t understand hiring people who do not have the skills needed to do their jobs. The fact that Cynthia has to worry about being black listed because she wants equal pay, or that she asks for a team that can manage her hair and makeup is infuriating. The fact that Jodie Turner-Smith had to apologize to a hairstylist because the stylist didn’t know how to do Jodie’s hair is absolutely ludicrous. The things that Black women have to face in Hollywood are terrible and I need Hollywood to step it up. Diversity cannot be about lip service. There must be follow through on their end and that starts with equitable pay and equal representation behind the scenes and not just in front off the camera.

The entire interview:

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8 Responses to “Cynthia Erivo: ‘Usually there are no Black makeup artists on a set’”

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  1. ThatgirlThere says:

    Makeup and light are huge issues in the industry for black people. After the comments she made about Black Americans mocking them with a white guy on Twitter, I’ve been done with Cynthia. Gorgeous voice but she could work on her acting skills.

    • pottymouth pup says:

      for the life of me, I will ever understand how or why studios wouldn’t automatically ensure having black make-up artists & hairdressers that have subject matter expertise in styling all shades of POC and dealing with different hair textures on set when they are working with Black talent. That myopia completely defies logic

  2. BothSidesNow says:

    I would love to watch the entire round table interview, but from what I saw, it seems powerful and positive and I appreciate their willingness to open up and offer their perspective. As for what was written about Cynthia, it’s absolutely absurd that movie studios are not recognizing that African American actors/actresses need an entirely different set of support to perform at their very best. It’s 2021 and they still can’t get their shit together!

  3. Cait says:

    After what she said about Black Americans specifically Black American women I could careless. I have a feeling it’s why so many of her projects have been flops. No respect for black Americans but Cynthia sure likes to play our Icons Aretha Franklin, Harriet Tubman I find her sickening. Why dosen’t she make a movie about all the Nigerian Girls trafficked to Italy to work as prostitutes ? It’s their own people doing it to them . She would actually be bring some awareness

  4. ce says:

    Ive worked on film sets for nearly a decade, and can count the number of black makeup artists I’ve worked with on like one hand – there is a huge discrepancy between how many black artists are even EMPLOYED (a lot of POC hmu’s work in commercials and music videos, not scripted work from what I’ve seen). Also, I think I’ve only met or seen ONE black DP The rest were white men and zero women at all. Of all those dudes, only one could light black skin well. These conversations are really important because knowledge is power.

  5. FrenchGirl says:

    I like to read the credits at the end of movie and I noted that many lead black actors have their own makeup artist and hairdresser . Samuel L Jackson ,Will Smith ,Denzel for ex

  6. JanetDR says:

    it just doesn’t make sense not to have people with the required expertise on set!