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

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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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