Hollywood actors hope to curtail hair horror stories


SAG-AFTRA’s new hair equity rules are long overdue, say Black actors who’ve struggled to find qualified beauty professionals on set. “I actually convinced them to let me shave my head,” one said.

Carri Twigg preps in her hotel room with hairstylist Rebecca Haehnle ahead of a screening of her documentary “Ladies First” on Dec. 1. Twigg said the lack of professionals for actors of color on Hollywood sets have created “an unfair dynamic.” (Kyna Uwaeme for The Washington Post)

Watching herself in the first episode of the Netflix horror series “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina,” Tati Gabrielle says her eyes are drawn to the “sad” finger waves on the back of her head, a reminder of the issues she faced getting her hair done on set.

Producers liked the bleached blonde finger waves that Gabrielle, 27, donned during the audition. But after the actress, who’s Black and Korean, was cast as Prudence, she discovered the on-set hairstylist didn’t know how to re-create the style on her Black hair, despite it being a basic style cosmetologists learn in school. Producers then scheduled a day for Gabrielle — who learned how to do finger waves by watching YouTube tutorials — to teach the stylist. It wasn’t very successful. Throughout the first season of the show, Gabrielle styled the front of her hair while the stylist prepared the back.

“I actually convinced them to let me shave my head the second season of ‘Sabrina,’ because I was like, ‘I don’t want to wake up two hours before everybody else to have to do my hair,’” Gabrielle said.

From then on, the actress began to negotiate consultation power into all of her contracts, which allows her to inform the hair and makeup team of her needs before filming and have a say in who gets hired to do her hair.

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Now, guild performers will be entitled to similar options, after the actors union finalized a contract with Hollywood studios earlier this month that added provisions to ensure the hair and makeup process is more equitable for all performers, no matter their skin tone or hair texture. Actors will have the opportunity to let their production’s hair and makeup teams know what they need, such as specific products or styling techniques. And if the production fails to hire a stylist who can do the job in-house, the actor must be reimbursed for paying qualified personnel for preapproved hair or makeup services, as well as for time getting their hair styled outside of regular work hours.

During negotiations, “Community” actress Yvette Nicole Brown told studios that she was once directed to the special effects makeup trailer to get foundation. After months of back and forth, the provision’s language spearheaded by Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists members Tiffany Yvonne Cox, Jason Winston George and Michelle Hurd — was set in the last days of talks.

Hurd, 56, said that for decades, actors of color have been burdened with extra emotional and physical work to be as camera ready as their White counterparts. It wasn’t uncommon for performers with differently textured hair to wake up hours before the typical call time to get ready, she said, lugging carry-on bags full of their own hair products and styling tools in the hopes of finding a stylist who could properly do their hair, to varied success.

“My hair has been burned. I’ve watched little baby curls literally break off and fall down my face while someone was trying to straighten it,” said Hurd, who’s starred in shows such as “Star Trek: Picard” and “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.”

“We’ve all had times where you walk into a trailer and someone looks at you and goes, ‘Woo, oh my! Well, I guess we could pull that all back.’”

She added that some actors have even gotten scars from stylists inexperienced with shaving kinkier facial hair.

Hurd chalks up these problems to several factors: cosmetology schools not requiring training for textured hair; directors continuously hiring from the same Rolodex of hairstylists; and a lack of long-term work shutting stylists out from the union for hair and makeup artists.

In some instances, stylists have been honest about their limits and sent actors to more qualified hairdressers or barbers.

When Gabrielle needed her hair bleached to play Gaia in the TV series “The 100,” the production’s head hairdresser acknowledged her lack of expertise and referred her to another stylist. While the CW production didn’t reimburse her for the time she spent getting her hair done outside work hours — which wasn’t a requirement before the latest contract — it did pay for the service.

Although it’s safer to outsource when there’s no qualified personnel in the hair and makeup trailers, Hurd hopes the new rules will encourage producers to hire at least one professional who can do all types of hair on set. If they don’t, they’ll be contractually obligated to pay the actor for at least two hours, or the time it takes to get their hair done from an outside stylist.

“I want little children to see themselves represented and to see their crowns, see their natural curls, so that they can be proud and feel like they’re part of society,” Hurd said. “The concept of beauty also includes people of color.”

Carri Twigg, co-founder of the production company Culture House Media and an executive producer for the Hulu documentary “The Hair Tales,” said she hopes the new SAG-AFTRA rule will put an end to the unspoken “two jobs” that people of color typically take on in the workplace: “the job that they were hired for, and … the job of educating their co-workers or their colleagues or their peers on cultural/social requirements of working with people who are different than what is considered mainstream,” she said. “That’s just an unfair dynamic.”

With the contract’s codified hair requirements, actresses with textured hair no longer have to advocate as hard for themselves and risk being labeled a diva, Twigg said. It takes the burden from actors and places it on producers.

Twigg, 37, lives in Los Angeles, but she travels to Parlour Salon in D.C. a few times a year to meet with her go-to hairstylist, Rebecca Haehnle, who’s maintained Twigg’s curls for almost 15 years. Haehnle, who owns the salon, said that when working with customers with natural curls, she tries to undo the notion that their hair needs to be straightened for it to be seen as “under control” and “put together.”

“As women, and then also specifically as Black women, it is ingrained in us from the time we are children that our safety, our worth [and] our relative power is and will be affected by how we present,” Twigg said. “Women who want to go into entertainment know better than anyone that how they look is extraordinarily important.”

Monique Coleman, who’s been in the entertainment industry for more than 30 years, said she’s grateful for the SAG-AFTRA provisions, which she hopes will put an end to the hairstyling issues many actors of color have been battling in the dark.

Coleman, 43, said she’s never stepped on set without her own stylist-prepared wigs, extensions, oils and edge control products, and she scours scripts to figure out how her hair will need to look throughout filming.

The actress said her creative thinking helped turn an “unsalvageable” hair mishap into a signature character styling choice while she portrayed Taylor McKessie in Disney’s “High School Musical” movies.

Coleman was initially sent to an outside hairstylist for a full weave, she said, but it was done so poorly that the only solution was to cover it up. The stylist on set “came up with a solution to put a scarf on me. But as a Black girl, I knew that that was going to be an immediate tell that there was a mistake made.” Instead, she asked if headbands could be consistently incorporated into her character’s look, and they worked with the wardrobe department to grant her request, even as her hairstyle was changed throughout filming the movies.

Her favorite hair experience was on the set of the 2022 Lifetime movie “Greed: A Seven Deadly Sins Story,” where she didn’t have to do any hair preparation at all.

“I felt held, I felt supported and I felt seen,” Coleman said.

The actress applauded Alicia Chowen, the hairstylist for “Greed,” for setting the standard of what could be the new normal for hair on set: creating seamless wig options, from braided to straight, blonde versions, that followed her character’s arc while being cost-effective and timesaving, she said.

“My hope is that we can spend less time thinking about our hair and our makeup,” said Coleman, “and more time devoted to the work and the craft that we love so much.”

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