Makeup artist Vera Steimberg has over two decades of experience. She’s been a personal makeup artist to actress Zoe Saldana and her credits include, “Dolemite Is My Name,” “Avengers: Endgame” and “Dreamgirls.”
Earlier this year, when the Academy invited 817 members to join, Steimberg was on that list. Steimberg, who hails from Argentina, was surprised by the invitation, and also welcomed the Academy’s initiative for inclusion and diversity.
“I applaud the change,” she says.
Below, Steimberg talks about representation and diversity and what she’s been doing to encourage women who want to get into the business.
How do you feel about the new Academy inclusion standards?
The perpetual exclusion of underrepresented groups is an indignation that deserves this type of attention. Our voices have not fallen upon deafened ears, and it’s been a long time coming. I’m excited to see them turn a new leaf and look forward to the positive impact this will have.
What did it mean for you as a makeup artist to be accepted into the Academy?
With everything that was happening in the world — the pandemic, I was blown away. I had no words. I’m from Argentina. I’m a Latina and I speak Spanish. I’m always in the trailer with a diverse group of people.
I think being a part of the Academy brings a different set of eyes to things because I was born in a different country and we see movies differently. As humans, we all see things differently. I think where you were raised and how you were raised also contribute to how you see things. So, having this diverse breakdown is so important because we all see things differently.
I want to start participating in things and build my knowledge as to how the Academy works. We can’t go to the theater and interact, and that’s the first experience you want to have. I’ve been in the industry for a long time and so I know members of the Academy who have reached out and said to call them if I need anything.
We need diversity in the Academy and this business in general. It’s something I’ve been advocating for a long time. I work for a lot of African Americans on set and it’s so important to educate everyone to do everything.
There should be no barriers to African American makeup artists or anyone doing white hair, and those barriers exist. So, I’m happy to be a part of the Academy to start these conversations. There’s a lot we can do and I’m happy to learn more about what the Academy has to offer.
What are you doing to mentor makeup artists and help pave the way for them?
I’m looking to be making small tutorial videos for people so they know how to work and be safe during COVID-19. The video will show how artists can prepare themselves and when applying eyeshadow, how not to double-dip. So I’ll be making those.
I’m always offering advice when people ask for it. I’ll be asked, ‘My daughter is moving to L.A. and wants to be a makeup artist. What can she do?’ I’ll give my phone number, I’m an open book and advise on what they need to do to get into the union. I’ll give them all the information they need to get into the business and prepare themselves.
I also let people know, if I can do it being from another country, then they can.
I also encourage people to do something good for the community and go to Women’s Shelters. Some of my fellow makeup artists have gone to shelters, making up women for a day. It’s such a beautiful thing to do.
You were raised on watching subtitled films, and this year “Parasite” won best picture. Do you feel there’s still a resistance to foreign language films in the U.S.?
People have this idea that if it’s a Marvel movie or a movie directed by Steven Spielberg, they have to go and see it. But that’s also what sells, right? That’s what people want to watch.
Then you take this year, no one was expecting this little movie, “Parasite” to win. People were asking, ‘What is this movie?’ ‘It’s in Korean?’ ‘I had no idea it was in a movie theater.’
Nobody was expecting it. I think by posting and being more active on social media about what’s out there, you encourage people to see the smaller independent films.
I would love to see more Spanish or European films. There are so many small movies that will come out and they’ll go past you. Then one film comes out, and it’s a masterpiece. For me, we must watch a variety of movies and expand our minds. There’s so much out there and people don’t know how to promote it. If I have the chance as a new member, I want to be a voice in helping to get the word out there, encouraging people to watch the smaller films that you’re not typically thinking of watching.
I grew up in Argentina, and many of the movies I watched at home were dubbed. I never heard the actors. Growing up, as I started going to movie theaters, I’d watch American films with subtitles and that’s how you pay attention. You’re so focused. I realize here, a lot of people here don’t like watching foreign films because they don’t like subtitles. And I understand that because they didn’t grow up with that. It’s not the norm.
People also have this attitude of, ‘I don’t want to read subtitles.’ But it’s a matter of training and patience. You’re training your brain to do both things – reading and watching.