Marvel’s Black Panther has been shattering box office records since its release last week. While the critically acclimated hit is being praised for its cultural and cinematic relevance, the film, which stars Chadwick Boseman, Lupita Nyong’o, Angela Bassett and Michael B. Jordan, also boasts some seriously fierce fashion and beauty. Set in the fictional, futuristic East African country of Wakanda, the film blends traditional African culture with space-age design, resulting in epic tribal-inspired costuming and warrior-like hair and makeup.
To better understand exactly what went into creating the jaw-dropping hairstyles worn by the actors in the film and why showcasing natural hair texture was so important to the storyline, we hit up Black Panther’s head hairstylist Camille Friend — the founder of Hair Scholars training school who has been working in Hollywood for some two decades — for the inside scoop!
Us: What does your job entail as head hairstylist for a blockbuster film like Black Panther?
CF: Black Panther was my fifth Marvel film, and I am working on sixth now! I was in charge of designing all the characters and making sure everything is done on time – hairpieces, wigs and so on. I also am responsible for hiring the rest of the hair team. You know six months in advance that you are going to do the movie, and then you start really prepping — meeting with directors and actors, building the wigs and hairpieces — about eight weeks out. I went to visual effects school, and some people think films like this are all about the visual effects, but you have to meet halfway. Visual effects directors work with the glam team. We have to do our job, and then they do theirs.
Us: You mentioned working on other Marvel films before like Captain America: Winter Soldier, Captain America: Civil War and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. How did your experience on Black Panther differ?
CF: In past, the Marvel universes had already been established, but we got to establish a new universe in Black Panther that was on the continent of Africa. It’s a modern Africa that had never been seen before.
Us: What was the process of creating looks for this film?
CF: I had a lot of free reign! After looking at traditional African style and beauty, I approached the design process for this film in three parts. First, I considered the current state of African American hair. We are in a natural hair movement with braids, twists and embracing texture. I wanted to honor that. I also looked to the Afropunk movement of young people wearing their hair natural, while playing with color and style. There is a bohemian and eclectic quality to it. Lastly, I had to consider the future. Wakanda is modern and technologically advanced. It doesn’t exist yet, so I drew inspiration from old ‘future films’ like 2001 Space Odyssey and Star Wars Empire Strikes Back. Those films stood the test of time.
Us: Do you consider how your work will look to someone five or 10 years down the line when you are creating?
CF: I have to consider how are these characters going to hold up five years from now. You want to make cinematic history with a film. So we all ask ourselves: Are we creating cinematic history?
Us: From Angela Bassett’s incredible dreadlocks to Lupita Nyong’o’s cool knots, there are a lot of amazing hairpieces in this film. How long did it take to make them, and how do you care for them during filming?
CF: It takes about 10 to 12 weeks to build out hairpieces because the hair and materials often need to be sourced, and then you need time to build and schedule fittings with the actor. All of the hair in this film had natural texture, so we treat them like we would the hair on an actor’s head. We have to keep them moisturized, clean and ready to go.
Us: What are your favorite products to have on set?
CF: The list is long! On Black Panther, we used Leonor Greyl products like the Crème de Soin a L’Amarante Detangling Conditioner and the Huile Secret de Beaute oil. I also love Design Essentials Almond and Avocado Daily Moisturizing Lotion, Cantu Coconut Curl Cream and Moroccanoil Glimmer Shine.
Us: Of the looks you created for Black Panther, do you have a favorite?
CF: (Sighs) People ask me this all the time, and I don’t have an answer. It is too hard to choose. What I loved about the film is that we obviously wanted to keep everything congruent style-wise, but we also were able to create stand alone looks for each character. What has been really exciting to me is that I have all these guys hitting me up on Instagram asking about Michael B. Jordan’s dreads and the other male looks. I loved that we got to give the men something to work with.
Us: Can you give us the scoop on that incredible grey dreadlocks look you created for Angela Basset as Queen Ramonda?
CF: I couldn’t have even dreamed of them coming out that good. Those were custom dreadlocks handmade by my friend Louisa Anthony at LA Hair Goods that were then individually attached to the base of the wig. They were each hand rolled using four or five different colors for dimension. I think we ended up with 110 of them. Let me tell you, it was a heavy headpiece.
Us: What about Lupita Nyongo’s hair as Nakia?
CF: It was really fun to play with her style. Her “hero look” was a custom wig made with regular kinky-textured haired. We ombred the color in, leaving about two inches of dark hair at the scalp and then lighter at the ends. We then twisted the hair to create the “Wakanda Knots.”
Us: What do you hope audiences take away from the hairstyles in this film?
CF: I want people to see that black hair is beautiful. I worked on sets with black hair before like with Dream Girls, The Help and Ray, but to showcase the hair in this way was totally different. We were able to embrace the natural hair movement and turn the hair into a character. Hair is part of this movie in way that hasn’t been done before. I think people are looking for hope right now. People want to be happy and that’s what Black Panther is doing for people.