From left: Alex Livinalli as Atuma and Mabel Cadena as Namora spent a lot of time in the water, and they were in headdresses for their characters. (Courtesy of Marvel Studios)
From left: Alex Livinalli as Atuma and Mabel Cadena as Namora spent a lot of time in the water, and they were in headdresses for their characters. (Courtesy of Marvel Studios)

As “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” has been high on box office charts since its release in October, one hot topic of discussion has been the actors’ looks – particularly their hair. Camille Friend served as head of the hair department for both “Black Panther” and the most recently released sequel.

Thirteen hair stylists, including two barbers, made up Friend’s “Wakanda Forever” team. Hair looks were specific to the culture of a character’s role in the film.

Camille Friend (pictured) led the hairstyling team on “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.” (Courtesy photo)

“As head of the hair department, you are designing the styles, the budget, and everything for hair,” said the Emmy-nominated Friend in a phone call from London.

She compares the on-set hair trailer to a laboratory. For “Wakanda Forever,” Friends explained she and her team regularly experimented and tried different approaches.

“Everybody can bring something to the table. I try to have an open-door policy so people can explore and evolve together,” Friend continued. 

Breaking Down Each Scene and Character

 The service for King T’Challa in “Wakanda Forever” saw the cast dressed in white to mourn a beloved leader. That opening film segment showed the diversity of hairstyles that Friend and her team tackled. It was a massive undertaking.

The process included the director looking at storyboards to assess all characters, including extras. After the director made his picks, Friend and her hair team thought through their hair strategies.

“We then questioned roles. Are you in the Jabari Tribe led by M’Baku (played by actor Winston Duke)? Are you going to be in the Border Tribe?” Friend explained. “Then [we] start fittings, which is where the magic happens.”

Fittings is the term used for assembling an actor’s character, Friend explained. She said everyone is in the room, simultaneously going through fittings with costumes, hair, and makeup.

For Friend, hairstylists on the set who do fittings are her heroes. They make hard decisions in the creative process after wardrobe fittings with the costume team, headed by Oscar winner Ruth E. Carter.

“We put actors in the chair, and we look at wigs that were pre-done,” Friend said. “Then we look at people in the mirror. We evaluate the look of their face, the shape of their head, do they have a headpiece. We take pictures then I say yay or nay.”

Research was also required for the Mayan characters Namor, Namora and Atuma, played by Tenoch Huerta, Mabel Cadena and Alex Livinalli, respectively. Those actors spent a lot of time in the water, which meant everything from hair to costumes to makeup had to be considered.

Hairstyles for Angela Bassett’s character Ramonda and Shuri, played by Letitia Wright, were based on hair growth after cutting it low to mourn T’Challa’s death. The wigs and pieces worn by the actresses showed their hair growing back. 

Shaving Heads of Female Warriors 

The distinctive look of female warriors, the Dora Milaje, was seen in their leader Okoye, played by Danai Gurira. Daily shaving of the head was required for each warrior.

“The day we cut the hair, there was no loud music. It was very quiet and spiritual. A certain type of music and sensitivity had to be given,” Friend said about the required special attention. “We are cutting Black women’s hair. We had to honor the women cutting the hair, and we had to give honor to God. I took it very seriously. I held hands, talked to people and I cried. It was a true bonding experience.”  

Friend has an impressive resume with hair assignments on more than 60 TV and film projects.. Early hairstyling roles were with TV series “Third Rock from the Sun” and “Malcolm and Eddie.” She has led the hair department on several Marvel films, including “Captain Marvel,” “Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2,” and others. Friend has also led hair departments for the films “Tenet,” “Charlie’s Angels,” and “Us.” She was the personal hairstylist to Samuel L. Jackson in the film “Ptolemy.” Currently in London for a year, Friend is working on the film adaptation of “Wicked.”

Hair Scholars,” an online training school created by Friend, aims to bring diversity and inclusion into film and television hairstyling.

“We’ve set up full online classes about styling hair and wigs,” Friend said. “But we want to teach people how to get into the business and how to become a department head.”

“Hair Scholars” feeds Friend’s love for connecting with stylists. After all, she is a super hairstylist.

“I love teaching. It fulfills me in a whole different way,” Friend said. “I really feel blessed to be able to do this.”

Brenda Siler is an award-winning journalist and public relations strategist. Her communications career began in college as an advertising copywriter, a news reporter, public affairs producer/host and a...

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