Awards Daily’s Jordan Walker chats with Emmy-nominated hairstylist Araxi Lindsey about the black-ish episode “Hair Day.”
Awards Daily: First off, I want to congratulate you on your first Emmy nomination, Araxi!
Araxi Lindsey: Thank you! Thank you so much!
AD: How was it on Emmy morning when you found out you were nominated?
AL: Honestly, I forgot all about it! Since we’ve been quarantining, I haven’t been doing that much hair, just gardening a lot, so it completely slipped my mind. When I got the first call saying I was nominated, I was completely shocked!
AD: So let’s talk about the black-ish episode you’re now Emmy-nominated for, “Hair Day.” This episode focuses on the hair journey of Diane (Marsai Martin). In addition to Diane’s story, the show also features stories from real-life Black women about their hair growth throughout their lives, breaking the format of the episode a bit. What was the inspiration for this episode?
AL: This episode was inspired by all the experiences Black women have with their hair. We pulled a lot from friends, memories and current experiences we still have as Black women to this day. This is a very unique journey that everyone doesn’t have to go through. A lot of this episode was experiences that I went through growing up with my mother. My mom didn’t know how to do my hair. At a young age, I wore my hair in cornrows with beads at the end. I remember wanting a relaxer so bad, but my mother didn’t know how to do that. We didn’t have internet tutorials like people have today. I kept begging for a relaxer, and my mom gave in after a while, so I got my first relaxer in junior high school. The 1970s and 1980s were a wonderful time for Black women’s hair. I always looked up to Cicely Tyson because everyone wanted to be her; she was so beautiful, and so was her hair! I had to learn and figure it out when I was 13 and 14 years old how to do my hair, and what kind of hairstyles worked best for me.
AD: Many of my aunts are hairdressers. They either had their own salon or did hair in their house for people we knew, so I’m familiar with Black hair and how important and personal it is for a woman! How did you get your start doing hair?
AL: My mom wanted to make sure I was productive in that time between high school and college, so my mom suggested cosmetology school. I didn’t really get into doing hair for television and film until about a year later. I never even considered this could be a career, doing hair in the entertainment industry. I remember Jada Pinkett-Smith was instrumental in launching my career. Jada got me into the union, something I didn’t even know about. She was the person who helped me get my first job!
AD: What was your first job in Hollywood?
AL: I worked on The Matrix, that was the first film I was a hairstylist on.
AD: In additional to your work on black-ish, you’re also the personal hairstylist for Tracee Ellis Ross. Bow’s hair is always on point, and it has been since the start of the series. Ross is a fashion icon and unapologetically proud of her beautiful hair – as she should be! How do you and Tracee decide on what styles for specific scenes and episodes?
AL: When I first started black-ish, I read the pilot and I was absolutely thrilled. I was so excited. I got to have my own Clare, Denise, Vanessa and Rudy Huxtable. I wanted the hairstyles on the show to be a source of present day. When I get a script and figure out what Bow is doing in a scene, I figure out the hairstyles based on the story. How is Bow feeling that day? Is she spending time with the kids? Is she coming off a long shift at the hospital? I need to imagine Tracee’s face and see what emotions are on the page, and I’ll pull from those emotions of what’s going on in the scene to figure out what Bow’s look will be.
It’ll also depends on how we shoot the episode, that really gets technical. My ultimate goal is to find the simplest hairstyle. Tracee will find what she likes, I’ll find what I like, and sort of come together on specific looks to put together.
AD: How much time to you get with Tracee when putting together a hairstyle before she shoots a scene? A few hours?
AL: Oh, no way. 20-30 minutes, tops!
AD: 20-30 minutes, that’s unbelievable! I know how long it takes for someone to get their hair done, and it’s never been 20-30 minutes. Especially the elaborate masterpieces we see on Bow.
AL: Yes! Only 20-30 minutes, so I’m running around non-stop. That goes the same for “Hair Day.” I had so many styles and wigs I had to do, and so many people in the scenes, it was crazy. We also had to keep the continuity of the scenes as well, since it wasn’t all shot in one day. We also didn’t have a lot of time for the Halloween episode either. Thirty minutes max for hair, 40 minutes is really pushing it. In the mornings, if I do get 40 minutes, it’s shared with makeup and wardrobe, so I’ve got to have everything ready to go and ready for the shoot.
I’ve developed a process over the past six years working with Tracee. At the end of the day, Tracee takes down her hair each night, and I need to start all over the next morning. It’s a process, but I’ve mastered it.
AD: There’s really been a shift in Hollywood regarding the acceptance, celebration and acknowledgement of Black hair – and that acknowledgement is not everyone is qualified to style Black hair because Black hair comes in so many different textures and varieties.
Last year Matthew Cherry won an Oscar for his animated short Hair Love. “Hair Day” adds to the celebrations of Black hair. Are you seeing a shift in Hollywood opening more doors to Black hairstylist for Black actors and actresses?
AL: I think it’s a trend now, and trends come and go. Right now, I’m celebrating that I can be here for this cultural shift and I’m proud to be able to positively contribute to the shift. I don’t know if the trend will stay, but I pray it does. I recently heard a quote from the Jamaican artist IQ: “We have this moment and we have to make an impact.” We have this moment and we need to celebrate it. Our kids are seeing this and that’s my entire reason for doing this, the children. We have beautiful moments in time and I hope this moment lasts as long as possible.
AD: When little Black girls watch television now, they often don’t see themselves being represented and they rarely get the privilege to celebrate their natural beauty like other little girls in our society. What do you want those little Black girls to get when they’re watching the black-ish episode “Hair Day?”
AL: I hope it shows them they have a choice. They should be free to choose whatever hair they want to. Unfortunately, back in the 1980s and 1990s we didn’t have the option to wear our hair the way we wanted to. Our parents only knew about relaxers, so that’s how we wore our hair. We didn’t have the opportunity to explore our hair like girls do today. Parents are more educated on hair and how they do and don’t want their children’s hair to look, too. In short, I want girls to know they have a choice. Hair is beautiful and hair is a choice. You can wear it natural, locked up, with a relaxer, with braids and so on. Have the hair that you feel good in and that should be enough. Wear it to make you happy, not anyone else happy. Diana didn’t know she had a choice, but she knew she didn’t want a relaxer. She didn’t know the options that she had, but at the end she chose to wear her hair natural and it’s beautiful!
In the end, we wanted to show that it’s all right to wear your hair natural and I want little girls to know they’re beautiful just like Diane, no matter how they wear their hair. I just want them to be happy.
AD: I love that! Thank you so much, Araxi. I want to thank you again for your time, and congratulations on the Emmy nomination for you and the entire black-ish team. I wish you all the best!
black-ish is nominated for four 2020 Emmy Awards.