The hype around “Black Panther” has only continued to gain momentum in the recent weeks leading up to its premier. Fostering excitement for the film’s debut is undoubtedly the film’s cast of Black superheroes. Their red carpet looks have enthusiastically celebrated and paid tribute to the history and influences of the African cultures that make up the movie. The same ones that have, since long before the first action film ever stretched across a theater screen, been ironed and flattened out.
This zeal and passion for the groundbreaking film, the first of its kind to have a primarily black cast, has for many eager audiences been driven by the hairstyles of the film’s leading ladies. In fact, when watching the trailers, it’s hard not to notice the natural hairstyles rocked by actresses Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, and Angela Bassett. Mostly because for every second they take up in the film’s trailer they each rock the curly, coily, and braided reminders of the ways in which the film works as a celebration of Black history and beauty.
Leading up to the movie’s premiere, the film’s head of hair department, Camille Friend, talked to the Cut about what it was like to be part of a film that celebrates Black hair.
Friend was inspired by the styles of African tribes and the natural hair movement.
Friend is a veteran hairstylist of Marvel and action films. The Emmy-nominee has combed her fingers through tresses of the stars from “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “HungerGames” franchises, but this is her first time working on a project that features all Black actors as superheroes.
To ensure the looks she and her crew created for the film were as genuine as possible, Friend drew from the designs and customs of real African tribes and cultures. Describing the overall creative direction for the hair in “Black Panther” Friend told the Cut there were three aspects she took on. “For the “traditional” look, we used inspiration from the Zulu tribe, the Maasai tribe, and the Hima tribe,” Friend explains. “Then we looked at the modern styles in the natural-hair movement. Finally, we looked at the Afropunk movement, which has a lot of natural and creative styling. Also, there are five tribes in the story, and we had to create different looks for each tribe.”
The hairstylist demanded that everyone came to set with their natural hair, of course, she didn’t have to tell Lupita.
Fans of the natural hair movement will be pumped to see that “Black Panther” completely avoided using anything that would manipulate the natural curl of the Black actors and actress’ hair. “There’s no press and comb in this movie. No relaxers, no nothing!” Friend explained in her interview. “That was one of the things that I really was firm about. I requested that people come with their natural hair. People were like, “Are you sure?” and I was like, “Yes, I am sure! We have a qualified staff of hair people who are phenomenal and who are well-versed in natural hair.”
For Lupita Nyong’o (a modern icon of the natural hair movement) Friend sculpted two looks for the actress that were also inspired by the styles of African tribes. “She has two looks in the movie,” Friend explained before breaking down how her team created the signature look of Nyong’o’s character. “What we coined as the “Wakanda knot” is basically where we took small individual sections of hair and mixed those sections with Paul Mitchell’s Foaming Pomade, and then we twisted her hair down into itself to create that twist knot. The hair stayed really well all day long.”
For Friend, getting a chance to work on a film that celebrates Black hair as it is, is a complete honor.
“I don’t think black hair has ever been seen in a movie like this. It was an honor to do it and to have an open form to design and take hairstyling to the next level,” Friend shared. “That’s what we accomplished; we had a great crew and we worked really hard.”