When it came time to create the look of legendary singer Ma Rainey for the Netflix film “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” star Viola Davis called upon her longtime makeup and hairstyling collaborators Sergio Lopez-Rivera and Jamika Wilson as well as Mia Neal to help her transform.
“Having had six or seven years experience with Viola, I just know that she is willing and ready to go there,” Lopez-Rivera told Gold Derby in a recent interview. “Whatever ‘there’ is. She just needs to have things be as true as possible and as specific as possible. It doesn’t have to be beautiful — as a matter of fact, she’s more interested in the other side.”
He added, “What happens when you work with somebody like Viola is she is giving you permission to be your best.”
For Lopez-Rivera and the hair and makeup team, the freedom they were provided by Davis worked. The trio received an Oscar nomination in the hair and makeup category and is widely expected to win at the Academy Awards later this month. Davis, too, is a strong contender to win her first Best Actress Oscar for the performance — she won at the Screen Actors Guild Awards — capturing the famous singer’s steely determination and quiet vulnerability in the face of racism and inequality.
Perhaps in no sequence is Davis’ performance and the craftsmanship of the hair and makeup team better exhibited than when Ma Rainey explains to her bandleader, Cutler (Colman Domingo), how the white music producers truly see her — and why she refuses to back down or acquiesce to their demands and pressure to record.
“This scene is actually one of my favorite moments in the movie,” Lopez-Rivera explains in an email to Gold Derby. “It’s a pivotal moment because we the audience get to peek inside the facade of Ma Rainey. She fully trusts Cutler and confides in him. She almost whispers in this scene, letting the audience know that what she’s talking about is something deeply personal. She lets us experience her vulnerability, her insecurity, and the bitterness of always having to fight for her worth.”
Watch the scene above. “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” is available now on Netflix.
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