- Black actors and actresses have long expressed dissatisfaction with the way their hair is styled and treated on set, including the lack of hairdressers who can style their hair.
- Rukey Styles, a Chicago hairstylist, recently led the hair department on “Saturdays,” one of Disney’s newest shows.
- On set, she was able to experiment with jewelry, clips, shapes, and other factors when styling black hair.
Black artists have been talking about it for years: they’ve arrived on a film or TV production set to be told that the hairstylist is lost and doesn’t know what to do with their curly, textured locks.
A Chicago hairstylist, Rukey Styles, thinks part of the blame for eliminating these experiments lies with the hairstylists themselves.
Rukey has worked on productions such as Disney’s “Divergent” and “Sneakerella,” for which she was nominated for an Emmy.
Most recently, she led the hair department on “Saturdays,” a Disney show that premiered in March starring Golden Brooks and Omar Gooding. The show focuses on three best friends who frequent a local skating rink and form a skate team.
Rukey, head of the show’s hair department, said more and more actors are expressing themselves on set and hairstylists need to know how to style all hair types.
“Be as complete an artist as possible,” she told USA TODAY. “There’s straight black hair and there’s very tight, curly black hair. There’s curly black hair. Work with all types of black hair so you’re equipped to work with any hair that sits in your chair. “
Styling hair on set takes innovation, she says
To prepare for his new role as head of the hair department in “Saturdays,” Rukey first read the script and got to know the characters.
Before starting any production, she contacts the actors to ask them what they like, what they don’t like and what they think of their characters.
In “Saturdays,” Rukey said she considered the characters’ personalities as well as their hair texture.
Ari’s character, played by Peyton Basnight, loves butterflies, Rukey said. So Basnight, a 16-year-old actress, donned butterflies the Saturday”.
Basnight, a native of North Carolina, is multiracial and has said members of his family include Black, Native American, Chinese, Native American and more.
Basnight said she hasn’t permanently straightened her hair with chemicals, but does occasionally straighten it.
“I grew up with straight-haired white girls who wore their hair wet to school,” she said. “I had never seen anyone wearing braids until I moved to Georgia. It was really interesting to experience that.”
When she looks at her own hair, Basnight says she thinks of her great-grandmother, who was indigenous and had long dark hair. Her family say her great-grandmother only had three gray hairs in her lifetime, one for each son she had.
Before “Saturdays”, her first big production, she didn’t have much experience with protective styles like butterflies.
Rukey and his crew would leave the butterfly locks in Basnight’s hair for a few months, remove them, wash their hair, and put the locks back in.
“My hair has grown so much,” Basnight said. “It amazed me how much my hair had grown in six months. It was an amazing thing to see.”
Calling Ari her “butterfly girl”, she said the character was sweet and sassy. She sees herself in Ari and admires how confident she is.
“Ari is so positive and she’s always in a good mood most of the time,” Basnight said. “To be able to play someone like that was amazing because I could feel that positivity no matter what was going on.”
“People are expressing themselves more and more,” says the stylist
Looking back, Rukey said it would have been great to see a depiction of hair on TV and in movies years earlier.
“It would surely have changed the narrative of what beauty is,” she said before acknowledging that representation has increased on screen.
This increase in representation is also driving changes behind the camera, she said.
“People are voicing their needs more and more and superiors can’t be dismissive about these things because these requests are being made by the people who are higher on the call sheet.”
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Saleen Martin is a reporter on USA TODAY’s NOW team. She’s from Norfolk, Virginia – the 757 – and loves all things horror, witches, Christmas and food. Follow her on Twitter at @Saleen_Martin or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.