Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” hair department head Mia Neal is on course to make Oscar history by being the first Black woman to be nominated in the makeup and hair category. She will make Oscar history if she wins.
Neal, who worked on last year’s “Uncut Gems,” will be recognized at the Variety Artisans Awards at the Santa Barbara Film Festival for her work.
• How are you finding this awards season buzz and the idea that you could make history?
You go in and you do a job and this never crosses your mind. We all felt like we were making something special for sure, but I had no idea.
There was so much work to be done, that you don’t have that moment. There was no time for it. I’m so overwhelmingly grateful.
• Ma Rainey is called the “Mother of the Blues.” What is it like to bring her story to life through hair and makeup?
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.
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August Wilson’s work is amazing, and for Denzel [Washington], George C. Wolfe and Ann Roth to be a part of it across the board, you know you have to bring your A-game because they’re all creative geniuses.
• How did you get into hair?
I started doing hair young. My aunt owned a hair salon and I worked there.
I thought I was going to go to cosmetology school, but I fought it. I’ve always wanted to do something great and public schools don’t groom artists. I didn’t know my career existed.
I worked at the MAC [cosmetics] counter, and I met a woman who had completed the Juilliard hair and makeup apprentice program.
She wrote me a letter of recommendation. I went to the interview and I was accepted into the program, and that’s when everything shifted.
• What advice would you give to people that want to get into the industry?
Use your skills together because this business can be unforgiving. If you take on more than you can handle, you don’t get a second chance. Work on your skills and nothing is beneath you.
A lot of people start in theater. Not just Broadway, but Off Broadway, opera and summer stock theater.
You get the wig experience, you get to work on people’s hair and you get the period experience. By the time you reach film, there’s nothing that people throw your way that you can’t handle.