There’s something incredibly empowering about watching a film that deeply celebrates Black culture. Although there’s still much work to be done in terms of representation in the film and television industry, we truly seem to be making strides in the right direction. I also wouldn’t be a beauty editor if I didn’t appreciate the hair, makeup, and wardrobe used in these stories as a device to amplify the tale even further. I always believe these elements add a deeper layer to the narrative and more subtle depth to the characters.
This is especially true of the beloved Amazon Prime original film Coming 2 America (the follow-up to Coming to America). Although the original 1988 film has always been a fun watch, I have to say that the second is truly a sight to behold. My attention was immediately caught by the stunning hair creations displayed throughout the film. I’d never seen such a glorious portrayal of natural hair in a film before and it felt both incredibly satisfying and refreshing. Of course, being the beauty lover that I am, I had to know who was behind this stunning body of work.
It was none other than the incredible Carla Farmer and Stacey Morris—two Black hairstylists I believe are changing the industry for the better. Not only has their work on this film garnered them an Oscar nomination, but they’re also the hair masters behind other wildly popular projects like Black-ish, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (Morris), and King Richard (Farmer). This feels especially important at a time when we’re celebrating Black History Month. Black creatives should always be commended, but the timing of this nomination truly couldn’t have been better. I had the chance to speak to the two about the nomination, their sources of inspiration, changing the portrayal of Black hair in Hollywood, and the products they can’t live without onset. Read on for all their wonderful insight.
“It is important to see images of ourselves on screen that we can associate with,” says Morris. “Normalizing this imagery is important. It is more than just character identity. It empowers us and forces acceptance of our natural-hair textures. For many years our hair looks on screen have assimilated a Western and European ideal of what beauty should look like. Now, we are able to exemplify our own diverse and versatile beauty, wearing our natural textures like a badge of honor.”
“We are boldly creating new and evident beauty standards, changing societal stereotypes, and impacting how we view ourselves. What we do as screen stylists is a component to a domino effect that imparts change on hair discrimination issues and so much more. I would like to see this continue. It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, acknowledge, and celebrate those differences and find things in common to connect with each other. I think as people, we all want to feel beautiful, proud, confident, expressive, and unapologetic in our natural form—no matter your race, and that is what shapes diversity.” Farmer wholeheartedly agrees and chimes in with, “We don’t all subscribe to a European hairstyle 100% of the time. We have many different ways we like to express ourselves through our hair. I believe we will continue to see natural hairstyles and they will become more and more intricate and evolve—just like our music.”
This philosophy served as the base and jumping-off point when designing the styles seen in Coming 2 America. And just in case you forgot, the duo was just nominated for an Oscar for this stellar body of work—something they don’t take lightly. “It’s pretty exciting,” shares Morris. “Everything is going 100 miles per hour for me right now. It’s like dreaming awake. I’m just trying to really marinate in the moment.” Farmer also states that she’s feeling blessed, honored, and grateful for the honor. The hair department heads also admit that it wasn’t always a cakewalk.
“It was quite an undertaking,” says Morris. “We made a pledge to reawaken awareness of our indigenous Afro-centricity through these visualizations. Carla and I collaborated with each other, Craig Brewer, the makeup department heads, and Ruth Carter who did wardrobe. Together, Carla and I conceptualized modern-day and classic Afro-progressive looks during countless weeks of ideation, research, and preparation. We drew inspiration from many places to impart a distinguishing visual understanding of unique identities amongst all the characters both socially and geographically. At times, the hair worn also symbolized and portrayed status, culture, pride, background, wealth, and versatility. It was very diverse—just like in real life. The goal was to present looks never seen collectively on screen in one film, to embrace and celebrate the culture, and emblematize our natural hair textures.”
Farmer dug even deeper into various aspects of Black culture. “I admired the freedom of the images I saw on Afro-punk sites. The creativity and expressionism is valuable. To see a subculture with so much richness and uniqueness is rarely seen. I wanted to incorporate this into the younger generation of Zamunda [in the film]. The older generation was based on the original movie, more European influences, and more elevated textures and accessories than the people of Nexdoria, who were based on an urban sensibility.”
It’s also massively thrilling to hear that the duo believes we’ve taken huge steps forward when it comes to portraying natural Black hair in film and television. “We have most definitely made traction—just take a look at popular shows like Black-ish, Insecure, Dear White People, and many other culturally based films. As well as the movements for inclusivity and diversity on productions being implemented by the Academy. The hair and makeup unions are being an entity as well, stepping up for those being discriminated against in the workplace on sets. Yes, there is progress and it continues,” Morris states.
Nominations, awards, or other forms of recognition move the dial in such a positive way. “Every milestone we make is important,” adds Farmer. “There have been Black creatives behind the scene since the beginning of film-making, and each generation makes a mark and a dent. At one time, makeup and hairstylists who were women were not working in the film industry. Now, there’s an abundance of us.”
When asked how the two are celebrating such a key moment in each of their careers and Black History Month as a whole, the answer was simple. Morris says, “I am literally celebrating myself, the history that I’m laying out for those that will come long after me, and the standard I am setting forth. I am also embracing those that came before me whose blood runs through my veins and giving thanks for their history and its part in defining my purpose.”
Farmer stays true to herself and knows that Black history should be honored year-round. “I celebrate Black history every day! I hire Black, I post Black, I love and support Black businesses, people, and things!” If you’re also curious about the products the pair is always using on their projects, keep scrolling below.