Campaign to fight ‘insulting’ standard of hair and make-up for black actors

Peggy-Ann Fraser Peggy-Ann Fraser
by -

A campaign has been launched to address the “substandard” treatment of black actors in hair and make-up styling for stage and screen.

Actor Peggy-Ann Fraser, who is leading the campaign, said she had been asked to wear a scarf because stylists were unsure of how to work with her hair, and has often been given the wrong shade of foundation.

These issues are due to a lack of training, a lack of diverse models for artists to practice on and a lack of proper equipment, Fraser argues.

She raised the issue with actors’ union Equity last year, and has now put forward an action plan with entertainment union BECTU.

Her aim is to ensure that all professional productions have the skills and equipment available to provide the same quality of service to all actors regardless of ethnicity.

Fraser said: “There were so many times that I had arrived in hair and make-up to find that either they didn’t have the right shade of foundation, or they didn’t know how to deal with my Afro hair.

“Sometimes I was told to wear a scarf round my head so they didn’t have to deal with it. But it was hurtful and insulting to be told that my hair is a problem, and I don’t see why actors of colour have to accept substandard treatment.”

Following a meeting between minority ethnic Equity members and the media hair and make-up branch of BECTU, which represents the film and broadcasting industry’s professional hair and make-up artists, Fraser and BECTU have listed a series of aims.

These include working with make-up and hair professionals and the sector skills council Creative Skillset to update the National Occupational Standards for hair and make-up in film and television. They want to ensure that minority ethnic make-up and hair is included as a requirement in the core curriculum, meaning that those learning the profession will not enter the industry without these skills.

The union also aims to include the training in all core apprenticeships, and to lobby institutions to use more ethnic minority models for students to practise on.

BECTU and Equity are working to set up a training course in October for working professionals. This will include barbering for Afro and Asian hair, make-up for Afro and Asian skin, and hairdressing for Afro and Asian hair.

BECTU’s hair and make-up branch will also work with Equity’s BAME members on recommendations that will published via a new website, listing appropriate products and equipment, as well as making sure that these products are accepted as part of hair and make-up designers’ basic kit.

Fraser continued: “Equity members stated that on both period and contemporary productions they and their minority ethnic colleagues had encountered hair artists who did not have the skills to style their hair, or they had the skills but not the appropriate products or equipment to use, or neither skills nor kit.

“Sometimes they were told to get their usual barbers or hairdressers to style their hair for which they would be reimbursed, in practice not always in full.”

Fraser said that in terms of make-up, stylists often did not have a full palette of foundation and would apply a tone that was inappropriate for the actor’s complexion.

She said: “This looks visibly wrong on screen and can impact on the actor’s career. One actor said that in the past she’s left the production and gone to the make-up counter of a big branch of Boots and had her make-up done there.”