The Woman King cast is made up of empowered, intelligent and beautiful Black women whose characters’ stories are told, in part, through hair and makeup.

Lashana Lynch and Thuso Mbedu in THE WOMAN KING
Lashana Lynch and Thuso Mbedu in THE WOMAN KING © TriStar Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

The Woman King hair and makeup teams certainly put the work in to ensure the beautiful aesthetics viewers see is as central to the movie and the character’s development as the captivating dialogue. This is easily seen as we follow the stories of the women warriors who make up the Agojie in the movie.

 

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Director Gina Prince-Bythewood knew that hair was going to be a big part of The Woman King. “These are Black women, warriors, and their hair should reflect that. My first conversations with all the actors were about coming up with ideas for their hair and portraying their characters through hair,” says Prince-Bythewood.

The Woman King
(l-r) Thuso Mbedu, Lashana Lynch and Sheila Atim in THE WOMAN KING © TriStar Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

Hair Department Head, Emmy winner Louisa V. Anthony said she was “thrilled to design hair that says something of our history, our culture, and about powerful women, and who we’re becoming for our future.” Anthony wanted to combine 500 years of braiding culture into a look that the present-day audience would appreciate. During the film, it was easy to see this aim was achieved, finding a balance between then and now.

“These are Black women, warriors, and their hair should reflect that.”

Although the film is named The Woman King it follows the story of so many women, each with their own unique story and journey, some already empowered, others just finding their true power. The story of their character development is told in many ways, including through the changes in their hair. One character who undergoes such changes is Nawi played by Thuso Mbedu.

Thuso Mbedu in The Woman King
Thuso Mbedu in THE WOMAN KING © TriStar Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

At the start of the film, Nawi has a simple life on a farm where she takes care of everyone including herself. She also wears her hair in a simple natural look, hair that she does herself. As the film develops and Nawi is training to be an Agojie, her hair develops. Anthony said: “When she has joined the Agojie as a trainee, we see her having her hair braided by another Agojie, symbolizing the sisterhood bond that the Agojie share. You can see her character taking some pride in herself.”

“… if Woman is King then her hair is her crown.”

It wasn’t just the women who had their hair tell a story. One more subtle hair transformation was that of Malik, whose mother was from Dahomey and father was British. The actor Jordan Bolger wears a long wig to recreate the popular style in Europe at the time. As his character becomes more in touch with his African heritage, his hair becomes curlier and more textured.

 

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Meanwhile as Nawi becomes an Agojie her hair changes again to match another elevation, one in status. In African braiding culture historically, women could use hair to symbolize their wealth, social status, and whether or not they were married. It’s not surprising that in this film as Agojies rise through the ranks their hair gets more elaborate. “Trainees appear with more simplistic braiding, while the lieutenants and higher-ranking Agojie have more intricate and adorned braiding, using cowrie shells and beads,” says Anthony. Afterall, if Woman is King then her hair is her crown.

The Woman King
Viola Davis and John Boyega in THE WOMAN KING © TriStar Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

The Agoije with the most status is Nanisca played by Viola Davis whose personal hairstylist Jamika Wilson collaborated with Anthony and Prince-Bythewood to create Nanisca’s look. “We decided to go with a braided mohawk look, inspired by looks that could have been seen in the 19th century. We use the mohawk throughout the movie: when Nanisca is in battle, you know because her hair is up; she’s the warrior, ready to fight. When she’s in the palace, her braids are relaxed, released,” says Wilson.

 

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Viola Davis’ personal makeup artist, Sergio Lopez-Rivera, collaborated with South African makeup and prosthetics designer Babalwa Mtshiselwa to create the other important element of The Woman King’s look, the scars. Whilst the actors play out the scenes that show us their emotional scars, behind the scenes prosthetic scars were created to be added to the warriors. “They let the audience know a back history, without having to explain anything,” Lopez-Rivera says.

For Mtshiselwa and Anthony to tell a story through hair and makeup, they needed to study each character’s background and personality, and did an amazing job. Every beautiful dark-skinned Black woman in this film has minimal makeup to accentuate each character’s natural beauty. The king may forbid his people from looking at the Agojie outside of the palace but for those of us watching in the audience, the view is amazing.


The Woman King is released in select cinemas on 4 October 2022 and nationwide from 7 October 2022.

 

Catherine Wiltshire

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