Christien Tinsley (‘Emancipation’ prosthetic makeup artist) on ‘building and creating’ the scarring on Will Smith’s back [Exclusive Video Interview]

“It’s always nice to be included,” declares “Emancipation” prosthetic makeup artist Christien Tinsley about his reaction to the film’s inclusion on the Oscar shortlist of 10 films vying for a nomination for Best Makeup and Hairstyling. Tinsley is shortlisted alongside his colleagues makeup department head Ken Diaz, hair department head Andrea Bowman, and Judy Murdock and Pierce Austin, who respectively took charge of the makeup and hair for the film’s star Will Smith. For our recent webchat he adds, “I’m a huge fan of Ken Diaz. He’s been doing this for 40 plus years, and he’s been a colleague, a peer, a mentor. In a lot of ways, he was an inspiration when I was a child, uh, wanting to get into the business. So, to be working with Ken and then to be on the shortlist with him for the same film has been really spectacular for me.” We talked with Tinsley as part of Gold Derby’s special “Meet the Experts” Q&A event with 2023 Oscar contenders. Watch our exclusive video interview above.

SEE Exclusive Video Interview: Andrea Bowman (‘Emancipation’ hair department head)

“Emancipation” is directed by Antoine Fuqua from a screenplay by William N. Collage, based on the real-life story of former enslaved man Gordon (named “Peter” in the film) who posed for confronting photographs of his bare back, heavily scarred from the whippings he endured during his time on a plantation in the South. The worldwide outrage that followed the publication of these now-iconic photos in 1863 gave the abolitionist movement proof of the cruelty of American slavery and a rallying cry to end it once and for all. The Apple Original Films drama stars Oscar winner Will Smith (“King Richard”) as Peter, who flees the plantation after being whipped to within an inch of his life, separated from his loving wife Dodienne (Charmaine Bingwa) and their children. He embarks on a torturous journey north through the swamps of Louisiana, outwitting cold-blooded hunters led by the relentless Fassel (Ben Foster), before eventually joining the fight to bring an end to the darkest chapter in American history.

Tinsley was well aware that so much of the film’s impact rests on the reveal of Peter’s heavily scarred back. “This film isn’t necessarily about enslaved men and women, though it’s about one man’s journey to find freedom. It’s about a man’s journey to connect with his family. It’s about a man’s need to explain to the world and to those who are oppressing him that ‘I’m not going to consider myself less than a man despite what you do to me. And this apexes right at this moment when he takes off his shirt and poses for this photo,” he says. “There was a huge amount of weight in building and creating this. Not just because of the influence of the origin of the story, but where we knew we were going to be at at this point in the story to show the reveal. It’s one thing to look at a prosthetic like this and go, ‘well, we have an image that we can match to, we can just recreate that and be done with it,'” he explains. “The scars in particular on his back are so far beyond I think how our minds perceive how peoples’ bodies scar, which is what makes it so horrific. It was important to me to keep pushing the levels almost over-dramatizing it so it would read in such a way that it would have that emotional impact on people as opposed to the subtleties that we normally try to take into consideration when doing prosthetic work.”

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