Every Oscar night is always rife with history-making twists, but early in the 93rd annual ceremony on Sunday night, a rare two-for-one win made double history. In accepting the Oscar for Best Makeup and Hairstyling for “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” hair department head Mia Neal and Jamika Wilson, star Viola Davis’ personal hairstylist, became the first Black women to win an Oscar for makeup and hairstyling. Neal and Wilson first made history in March when they became the first Black women to be nominated in the category.
Alongside fellow winner Sergio Lopez-Rivera, Davis’ personal makeup artist, the trio happily accepted the honor for their big screen August Wilson adaptation. Backstage at the in-person ceremony, the three artisans were still giddy and more than thrilled to talk about what the history-making win means for the industry going forward.
“Everybody benefits from diversity,” Neal said. “Everyone does, so I think everybody wants it, to be honest, I think that has been the thing. Time has kind of sped up in a way, in terms of technology and just being more connected; also people not being afraid to speak up. And then a lot of people maybe didn’t realize, hey, maybe diversity isn’t in this, because things were just the norm. So I think that things are happening and it’s being well-received. That’s the beauty of it, that I don’t sense any resistance.”
She continued, “In moving forward… I’m just excited about the future, because these conversations are taking place, these questions are being asked by reporters. I think that we all should be excited about what’s to come.”
Added Lopez-Rivera, “We look forward to a time when these questions are moot.” Neal happily joined in, “And that’s coming! And that’s going to happen! We all benefit from it.”
Earlier this year, Neal told IndieWire about the process that went into the hairstyling of Davis as the blues legend. After costume designer Ann Roth (also an Oscar winner on the film) told her that Rainey made her own wigs out of horsehair, Neal got a hold of an entire mane to work with that was covered with manure and lice eggs.
“It’s more of a wire consistency instead of hair-like, so it definitely had some weight to it and totally gets disheveled and crazy very quickly… But when I was sewing the wig, it was so thick and wiry, only one hair at a time could fit through the lace that I use to build wigs,” Neal explained.
“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” is now streaming on Netflix.