As expected, the global phenomenon known as Black Panther has pulled in historic numbers for the third week in a row. The center of many conversations from Wakanda to Hollywood, the critically-acclaimed film has been showered with stellar reviews and heralded for its focus on pro-Black and Afrocentric themes, its portrayal of strong female characters, the Kendrick Lamar-produced soundtrack and all-around great messaging and imagery, among many other things. Another key talking point for Black Panther has been hair.
The ensemble, comprised of Lupita Nyong'o, Michael B. Jordan, Chadwick Boseman, Angela Bassett and many other esteemed actresses and actors, exhibited an array of eclectic hairstyles. The brainchild of head hair designer Camille Friend, the all-natural hairstyle choices were symbolic in several ways, and prime examples of how the superhero flick managed to lowkey and highkey connect the past with the present and showcase the beauty in us.
“I think Black Panther was the perfect opportunity to showcase Black hair and showcase, honestly, that Black is beautiful and that Black hair is beautiful,” says Friend, who grew up with a grandmother, aunts and other family members as hairstylists. “You can have dreadlocks. You can have twists. You can have braids. You can have all of the natural hair stylings, and if presented in the right way, it can be presented beautifully.”
“They use to joke that hairstyling was the family business, so it’s something that really comes quite naturally to me,” she admits. “I can’t imagine being anything else. This is the only thing I’ve ever wanted to be my whole life.”
Although her family ties may have provided her a solid foundation, they were only a portion of what prepped her for her most recent project. Having worked on cult-classics like A Thin Line Between Love and Hate and Dreamgirls, as well as blockbusters such as Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Captain America: Civil War, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay (Parts 1 and 2) and Django Unchained also proved to be quite helpful.
During her recent chat with REVOLT TV, the award-winning hair stylist and designer walked us through her design process for Black Panther, touched on the beauty in Black hair, and dropped some major keys to success.
What was your initial conversation for Black Panther like? Really, the first thing was my initial conversation with Ryan Coogler and our executive director Nate Moore. It was just sitting down with them, talking about the film and listening to Ryan talk about the different components of the movie and the things he thought were really important. One thing that was really great that I love was how passionate Ryan is about the script and passionate about this movie really being authentic. He was totally correct, because people have really come to love this movie already in such a short period of time.
Was it difficult finding the proper hair references for a film like this? Not at all. The first part I started with was thinking about the traditions of Africa. I took a look at hair textures, textiles and colors of Africa. The second part was getting into, I call it, the modern hair and the natural hair movement. They don't want relaxers. They don’t want chemicals in their hair. There’s also Afropunk, which I love. Afropunk is interesting to me because it’s a movement of people and a lot of young people who are natural. They are putting color in their hair, using extensions and using texture to express themselves. Another component for me was the future because basically Wakanda is a technologically advanced society. I watched a lot of different movies that are older, but that are about the future. I watched the original Blade Runner, Star Wars, and 2001: A Space Odyssey and other movies about the future that were shot a long time ago, but are still timely. The images I had in my head about what we were going to do weren’t that hard to find, because there’s a lot of natural hair things out there now. There are a lot of forums. What I wanted to incorporate was all of those three things; it was something that we created.
Was it a challenge to find a balance between Wakanda's futurism and the heritage attached to the types of hairstyles you were crafting? It wasn’t. When I design, I look at who this character is, what tribe were they in, what was their ranking, what’s their demographic, what’s their social standing, and even their age. All of that has to do with how I design hair. Those different characteristics about a character also lends its hands and makes those kinds of decisions.
What would you say was the most rewarding part of working on Black Panther? The thing about Black Panther is that it’s bigger than a superhero. It has become a movement. What I always like to think about is that this movie has a heart-connection with people because people want hope right now, they want change. I also think that at the end of the day, you are a superhero in your life. You are a superhero with your family. You might be a superhero at your job. I think everybody has those components in their personality, and that this movie basically spoke to people in a way that uplifted them. It brought them hope, and they know that there can be change and we have to be the ones who change it.
Black Panther has been labeled a defining moment in Black America. What does it mean to be at the forefront of a defining moment for Black hair? All I’m going to say is that I feel that this movie has opened up opportunities to me that I didn’t have before. That’s a beautiful thing, and I am humbled and honored to be here by the grace of God. I feel like, for me, doing this movie was something that I didn’t plan. I feel so grateful. Tremendous things are happening and I am so blessed. Really, I’ll be honest, in doing this movie, some of my biggest dreams are coming true, so it’s very exciting.
How do you normally approach styling and designing hair for a major film like Black Panther? Initially, it is reading and really thinking about the script. The second part is you talking to your director and getting in his head about how he sees the characters. The third component is looking at what Costume [Department] is going to do, looking at their sketches, looking at the colors, shapes and textures of the clothes they are going to use on a character. Also, looking at [the] Makeup [department] and what they are thinking about doing with the character. The fourth component would be talking to the actors and seeing what they feel their character is, what they feel drives their character, and what they possibly think would be a hairstyle or shape that would work for them. This is because our main goal when you get into character, no matter what we put on you, is that we want you to feel happy. We want you to be driven to really do a great job.
How are things prioritized on set? Do you assign yourself to more prominent actresses and actors or the most difficult styles? It varies. I pick hairstyles because they are the most difficult and I know what I want in them. Sometimes it’s a person of a certain prestige that I know that I have to do. But with everybody—and people who know me and who worked in the trailer with me will say this—I like to make everyone feel special. Whoever you are and whoever I have doing you, I am still very much a part of it. I’m in it. I’m there with you. I’m orchestrating it. I’m giving direction. I’m very hands-on.
How do you keep current on the latest hair trends? I’m like anybody else. I do a lot of reading. I love watching movies. I’m on the Internet a lot. I love magazines. This is the thing about hair: hair is constantly changing, but there’s always basic concepts about hair that’s the same, as far as the technical part of it. So I’m always looking at what people are doing that I find interesting. I love to go places and sit and watch people. I’ll ask somebody if I can take a picture of them. I love going to art galleries. I love architecture, so I am really that kind of nerd. I love looking at fashion. What are they doing with the clothes? What is going on with the hair? All of those things inspire me to come up with characters and come up with looks.
As a third-generation hairstylist, what would you say is an important lesson you’ve learned from your family’s teachings? For me, it’s to totally embrace who you are. I have pictures of myself when I was in diapers with wigs on. My grandmother had all of the wigs, and so my whole life I’ve been surrounded by hair. My whole life I’ve been going to the salon. I worked in the salon as a kid. If you wanted your hair done, you had to go and work in the salon. You had to shampoo some hair, take some rollers out, tweak some hair; you had to earn your hairstyle. So one thing I learned was that the hard work, the passion and the preservation is what got me to where I am now. That, and also just the true love and passion that I have now for hair and my career.
What advice would you give someone looking to follow your career path? I think you have to understand that this is a business. You do have your side that you’re creative with, but also this is a business, so treat it as such. Also, when you have celebrity clients, just remember that you are the hairstylist. You’re not their friend, so you always want to be kind and respectful, but be professional. They’re not your buddies. They are not your homies. They’re not your homegirls. They are your clients, and you treat them as such, so that you have a mutual level of respect. The other thing is that you have to be persistent, you have to have preservation and you have to understand that none of this happens overnight. And just learn your craft. The difference between successful and not successful, in my opinion, is your skill level. Know your craft. Go to classes. Learn all that you can learn. Know all hair textures. Just don’t know one type of texture. I know how to work with any kind of hair that sits in my chair, and that’s been part of my success.