‘Ma Rainey’s’ hair and makeup team make history with Oscar win

Viola Davis' Ma Rainey stands at a microphone.
Viola Davis as Ma Rainey in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.”
(David Lee / Netflix)

The hair and makeup team behind “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” — Sergio Lopez-Rivera, Mia Neal and Jamika Wilson — made history when they were nominated for the Oscar, with Neal and Wilson being the first Black people recognized in the category. Now they have made history again as that category’s winners.

The team transformed Viola Davis into 1920s blues singer Ma Rainey, who, in the Netflix adaptation of August Wilson’s celebrated play, is seen during the course of one day spent largely in a sweltering Chicago recording studio. There are precious few photographs of the real-life Ma Rainey, so the team had to extrapolate much of its work from additional research.

Creating a period-accurate horsehair wig and a makeup look that would run and smear just so as the story progressed, the team devised a look that was part glamour and part grit, moving from precisely pulled-together to deliriously disheveled


Neal created the wigs; Wilson, Davis’ longtime hairstylist, put them on the actress. As makeup artist Lopez-Rivera, who also has a long-running collaboration with Davis, said of the character’s makeup and overall look, including her sweat, in an interview with The Times, “It was applied precisely to look messy.”

In accepting the award, Neal spoke of her grandfather, who was a Tuskegee Airman, represented the U.S. in the first Pan-Am Games and graduated from Northwestern University yet was barred from a job as a teacher because he was Black.

“So I want to say thank you to our ancestors who put the work in, were denied but never gave up,” Neal said. “And I also stand here as Jamika and I break this glass ceiling with so much excitement for the future. Because I can picture Black trans women standing up here and Asian sisters and our Latina sisters and Indigenous women. And I know that one day it won’t be unusual or groundbreaking, it will just be normal.”

Other nominees in the category were Marese Langan, Laura Allen and Claudia Stolze for “Emma”; Eryn Kruger Mekash, Matthew Hungle and Patricia Dehaney for “Hillbilly Elegy”; Gigi Williams, Kimberley Spiteri and Colleen LaBaff for “Mank”; and Mark Coulier, Dalia Colli and Francesco Pegoretti for “Pinocchio.”

“Ma Rainey” was nominated for five Academy Awards, including lead acting for Davis and the late Chadwick Boseman.