In Oscars history, a Black stylist has never won, let alone been nominated for, an award in the Best Makeup and Hairstyling category. However, that all changed this past Sunday night, when a Black women hair team claimed the top honor.
Jamika Wilson and Mia Neal became the first Black women to be nominated for (and win!) an Oscar for makeup and hairstyling for their work in Netflix’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, alongside makeup artist Sergio Lopez-Rivera. Neal served as the head of the hair department for the film while Wilson, Viola Davis’ personal hairstylist, styled her client for her titular role as the real-life trailblazing blues singer, Ma Rainey.
Both Neal and Wilson were first-time contenders in the now 40-year-old film category (as was Lopez-Rivera). To nab the coveted award, the duo had to beat out the hair and makeup teams for Emma, Hillbilly Elegy, Mank, and Pinocchio.
“I want to say thank you to our ancestors who put the work in, were denied, but never gave up,” Neal said in her acceptance speech, paying tribute to her Tuskeegee Airman grandfather, James Holland. “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.”
Their win is a true testament to not only their incredible artistry but the intensive amount of work that they put into the dazzling hair looks seen throughout the film. According to NPR, Neal created 100 wigs for the film, including two that were made especially for Davis. In fact to stay true to Ma Rainey’s horsehair wigs, she told Vogue that she ended up importing horsehair directly from England to fashion a wig by hand.
Back in March, Wilson previously spoke to Variety to share not only her excitement about the groundbreaking nomination, but the significance of the recognition.
“I feel like I have to pinch myself. I’m just completely honored to be nominated for this award because I’m doing something that I love,” she said. “The recognition of my art and talent by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is bigger than me. It is for every young hairstylist who dreams beyond the salon chair to work on a motion picture set. It is for the young child who tells their parent they want to be a hairstylist to receive a response of ‘That’s not a real career.’ The nomination is validation that hair styling is an art form, a craft, and a skill. It also shows every Black woman or man doing hair that we can achieve, and importantly that our talent and skill is equal and exceptional.”