“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” hair department head Mia Neal and Jamika Wilson, Viola Davis’ personal hairstylist, have become the first Black women to win an Oscar for makeup and hairstyling.
Neal and Wilson won alongside Sergio Lopez-Rivera, Davis’ personal makeup artist. They beat out Mark Coulier, Dalia Colli and Francesco Pegoretti for “Pinocchio”; “Emma’s” Marese Langan, Laura Allen and Claudia Stolze; Kimberley Spiteri, Gigi Williams and Colleen LaBaff for “Mank”; and “Hillbilly Elegy’s” Eryn Krueger Mekash, Patricia Dehaney and Matthew Mungle.
The award was created by the Academy in 1981 after the 1980 film “The Elephant Man” was not recognized. Neal and Wilson first made history in March when they became the first Black women to be nominated in the category.
Backstage, Neal said, “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.”
“I was raised by my grandfather James Holland,” Neal said on stage as she accepted the Oscar with Wilson and Lopez-Rivera. “He was an original Tuskegee Airmen, he represented the US in the first Pan Am games, he went to Argentina he met Evita, he graduated from Northwestern University at a time that they did not allow Blacks to stay on campus, so he stayed at the YMCA. And after all of his accomplishments he went back to his hometown in hopes of becoming a teacher. But they did not hire Blacks in the school system. So I wanted to say thank you to our ancestors who put the work in, were denied, but never gave up. And I also stand here as Jamika and I break this glass ceiling with so much excitement for the future. Because I can picture Black trans women standing up here, and Asian sisters, and our Latina sisters, and Indigenous women. And I know that one day it won’t be unusual or groundbreaking it will just be normal.”
Based on the August Wilson play, the Netflix film tells the story of Ma Rainey (Davis) during a time when segregation and racial oppression were widespread in America. The movie takes place over the course of one hot Chicago day as Rainey enters the studio for a recording session.
During the session, she and Chadwick Boseman’s Levee feud as he explores his ambitions beyond just being her trumpet player.
At the suggestion of costume designer Ann Roth, Neal sought out horsehair wigs for Davis to reflect her style and persona. Neal created over 100 wigs for the background extras during the course of filming.
On bringing Ma to life, Neal said, “I always felt a strong connection to my ancestors. I never feel what I’m doing in the world is me, I always feel like I am covered and protected by them. We all get our gifts through our DNA, so I feel like I’m not only living out my dreams, but I’m living out my ancestors’ dreams. I love reading about things I love, especially Black history because we didn’t get that at school. This [film] was right in line with everything that I love: it is history, it is Black history, it is American history.”