In conversation with Awards Daily, Carla Farmer and Stacey Morris, the hair designers behind Coming 2 America and Sylvie’s Love revisit the stunning looks they’ve created.
When Coming 2 America premiered in early March, millions tuned in to see the return of Eddie Murphy’s Prince Akeem and his trusted advisor Semmi [Arsenio Hall]. In a year packed with marquee titles heading to streaming, the film handed Amazon a massive hit, and in the weeks that followed its debut, Coming 2 America has remained at the top of streaming charts.
Coming 2 America sees Murphy’s Prince Akeem ascend to the throne and return to Zamunda, the fictionalized African nation introduced to audiences in the original 1998 comedy. Coming 2 America has a budget nearly double that of its predecessor, apparent in epic sequences ranging from a Zamundan coronation to a royal wedding and even a dance battle with neighboring rival nation Nextdoria. Alongside the regal costumes designed by Academy Award winner Ruth Carter, Coming 2 America features the hair designs of Carla Farmer and Stacey Morris.
Morris has acted as Murphy’s personal barber for 25 years and did the men’s hairstyling for the film while Farmer is responsible for the women’s hair designs. The two worked together to create ornate looks fit for royalty. Using both extensive research and their own imagination Farmer and Morris orchestrated modern looks for a new generation of Zamundan royals and their militaristic neighbors in Nextdoria. The result of their work is a a film brimming with creativity and numerous unique and extravagantly designed hairstyles.
Read below as Farmer and Morris reflect on their inspirations and stunning hair creations.
Awards Daily: Stacey, you’ve been working with Eddie Murphy since you were 18, how did that start? And how has your working relationship evolved through the years?
Stacey Morris: Well, he heard about me cutting hair, and I started cutting his hair when he was in L.A., he would call me to do a house call. And that turned into him calling me a little more frequently to do his hair. He started calling me to cut his hair on set. Eventually, I joined the union and became a part of his hair and makeup team for his productions. So, it happened over some time. But, of course, when I got that first phone call, I was like, Oh wow! Eddie Murphy! Who would have ever thought? We have a chemistry and a rhythm. He keeps his people for a long time, if it works, that’s who he goes with; his makeup artists, me, his assistant—the people he chooses to bring their skills to his film, he uses them forever. So, you know, it’s a good thing. And I’m happy.
AD: Take us behind the curtain a little bit, Is Eddie’s energy off-screen similar to what we see on-screen?
SM: You have to imagine that you have people who have been working with each other for over 20-plus years, so it’s business, but it’s a family as well. We have our moments of seriousness where it’s all business, and we have our moments where the two are intertwined, and we’re a little more relaxed. But yeah, we laugh, we joke, we listen to music, we watch movies—we do all kinds of things while we’re at work. And Eddie, you know, people always expect him to be what he is on screen. And in real life, he’s not that— that’s his character, but in person, he’s very laid-back, very mellow.
He’s funny, of course. He’s always funny, and he’s really witty and intelligent. And so, yeah, we have a good time. But he’s not extra animated, he’s not that guy.
AD: In terms of your hairstyling for Coming 2 America, in what ways were you drawing inspiration from the original? And what were some areas where you focused on creating new, more modern styles?
SM: For me, with Eddie, I had to keep him kind of classic Eddie in the movie. He did change because obviously, 30 years have gone by, but we kept him neat and clean and royal and regal. We did have a flashback with the guys, so I had to replicate those looks from the nineties on Eddie and Arsenio. But other than that, it was pretty much [up to] my imagination [for the men’s hair].
Carla Farmer: Here’s the thing, we had Shari [Headley] and Eddie, who we’ve already seen. So, we had to keep them classic, but I wanted to go a whole different direction with Shari, but speaking to the director, he’s like, No, we have to keep her the same. She’s in Zamunda, but she’s not influenced by the culture as much as her kids would be.
The kids, who are from a different generation, are in line with the kids of nowadays—they’re influenced by African culture, the Afro-Punk culture, that’s where we determined how we would go. In the first film, we didn’t spend a lot of time in Zamunda, so we had to be more creative and use our imagination and create new looks.
We had two countries, we had Nexdoria, and we had Zamunda. Nextdoria had a more urban type of reference; they probably got their inspiration for their clothing and hair from the U.S. and the urban youth of places like Harlem and Los Angeles. The elders still went by the European influence of the culture.
AD: Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall have several side characters that they play throughout the movie. Did you have a hand in those hairstylings as well?
SM: Well, when you’re talking about those characters and the prosthetics and everything that comes with that —that’s like a whole other team, that’s Mike Marino from Prosthetic Renaissance. And Mike has an amazing team. I mean, that’s like a team of people who do casting and people who make teeth and people who do sculptures and drawings and people who create the prosthetic pieces and put them together. He even has his own wig maker. Mike did a fantastic job.
Fortunately, I was able to be around that team and watch. It’s just such an honor to see how they work and be invited in to contribute. I did contribute and consult on a few things— the hair for the Randy Watson character. And also, Clarence, the barber. It’s incredible, those makeups take six to eight hours to do and an hour to remove, and then you still have to shoot. It’s an amazing experience.
AD: Kiki Layne’s hairstyling for the film is absolutely stunning and very ornate and elaborate.
CF: For Kiki Layne’s look, we purchased faux locs and crocheted those into her hair. Ruth Carter and I had to work together with the different crowns and things to ensure that the hair and the crowns were in symmetry. So, that’s how those styles were developed. I had to work around whatever head ornament she had on.
AD: I’m glad you mentioned that because the coordination between the costuming and hairstyling in Coming 2 America was really well done and a treat to see unfold.
SM: That was a critical factor in our process, ensuring that we had cohesion between all departments, hair, makeup, wardrobe. There’s a lot that goes into that to make sure that each of our works complements each other.
AD: Which looks took the longest to plan and execute?
CF: For the character of Idi Izzi, played by Rotimi, That was a wig that I made with a friend of mine, Paula Ashby, a hairstylist in LA. We made the wig in her garage, and it was probably a 12-hour thing that we did; all-day and all night.
Another thing, we did prep, but we didn’t get to test the looks on the actors ahead of time. Most movies, you’re able to have camera tests, which we didn’t get to do. So, you just never know what’s going to happen, and you have to be prepared and have enough things to support your dream or your idea of what you want to see.
AD: And going back to your research process, can you tell me a little bit more about the inspiration behind the Zamundan and Nextdorian looks and how those looks came together?
CF: Well, we knew Zamunda, we saw Zamunda 30 years ago, and it was apparent that was influenced by European culture, as we all were in the nineties. So we knew that about them and the way they dress. But the kids coming up will take it and make it their own. So, I was discussing this with Craig [Brewer], the director. He had an idea for Wesley Snipes’ character, and Stacey and I were like, We need to push it a little further because that’s not our culture. Like we have to give him an edge. We have to swag him out. Stacey was so genius in what she created for him because it was a throwback to ancient warriors. But she put a modern touch on it. So it was a combination of all of those things. We wanted to show as much diversity of all cultures of African descent because really, it doesn’t make sense that someone would have dreads in Africa because that’s not an African thing. And as Stacey said, Coming 2 America is a fantasy piece so we could do that. We wanted to show the vast array of African culture.
AD: The way you’ve fused those cultures is fascinating.
SM: In doing Wesley’s hair and just knowing his character [General Izzi] and the characters that he’s brought in the past, Blade , Nino Brown [from 1991’s New Jack City], he’s had some dynamic hair.
We were inspired by the Afro-punk, or Afro-futuristic, movement. I knew that I wanted him to have a tribal aesthetic, especially being from Nextdoria. I wanted it to be a progressive look. His hair was inspired by East Africa, specifically the Amasunzu hairstyle from the Tutsi tribe in Rwanda.
Those hairstyles are indigenous to that land and worn by men and unmarried women to symbolize social status. I researched and looked up those styles, got inspired by those styles, and then brought them into the current day. As Carla said, this is fantasy. I used my imagination.
You see a change in his hair. He goes from one style into the next style, and there’s also the wedding sequence. I adorned his hair, following Carla’s lead, with jewels to enhance the beauty of the hairstyle. In Africa, doing your hair with jewels is a statement of pride; it identifies status or your level of wealth. There’s a distinguishing factor between the different embellishments the royals had versus what the Nextdorians did.
CF: They mention in the movie that Zamunda was a wealthy country, and Nextdoria had lost their wealth when Akeem didn’t marry the [Nextdorian princess in the first film]. But, even though they did not have the wealth, that does not determine how they present themselves. [Black] people push the culture as a whole. You’ll see what kids are doing in the urban areas on the runway. We are part of this American culture as a whole, and we influence the world with the way we dress and the way we do our hair.
So, we felt that Nextdoria would be that way. That even though they didn’t have money, they wouldn’t look like they didn’t have money. They would do everything they could to use the things that they had to make sure they were swagged out. For instance, Teyana Taylor’s character, Bopoto, would change up her hair every time we saw her.
The Zamundans had bathers, hairstylists, barbers—they’re sophisticated and more regal, they adorn themselves with jewels and gold, as opposed to the Nextdorians using ribbons, silver, or whatever different things they might have.
AD: I do want to ask you about your hairstyling work on Sylvie’s Love. I got the opportunity to talk to Angie Wells, who did the makeup for the film. She talked quite a bit about how Sylvie’s Love is a representation of middle-class African-American life in the fifties and sixties and how that’s not something audiences get to see often enough. I wanted to get your perspective on that and the project as a whole.
CF: Well, for me, I grew up in a middle-class African-American family. My mother was a debutante. She was with the Links, Nat King Cole’s daughter was in her debutante ball and John F. Kennedy was there too. So, I come from a family where I know that this is normal. This is something that we do. But, so many times in films, you don’t see that part of the African-American culture. You’ll see the maid in the house. You’ll see slaves. You’ll see people portrayed with really coarse, greasy, nappy hair uncombed, and not everyone looks that way; not everyone had that experience. And there’s more to us than that.
I thought this film was very important because it wasn’t about someone going to jail, or someone getting killed because they’re Black, or someone being depressed. It was about thriving Black people because that’s the type of family I came from. And I know Stacey also has had that same experience growing up. The way they shot Sylvie’s Love could compare to the films of that era. That was our approach—Sylvie’s Love was something that should have been made during the late 50s and early 60s, but we’re making it now and it can fit in the historical archive of Black films.
AD: How did you marry your own personal experiences with research to create the looks we seen in the film?
CF: Well for Sylvie’s Love, I was able to pull pictures from my own family and also what was popular at the time, like Dorothy Dandridge and Diahann Carroll. Like when Diahann Carroll was going out with Sidney Poitier, I had those kinds of images to pull from.
It was the same for Coming 2 America. It was a love story for the culture through the hair—that this is Black excellence and we need to see this. And we don’t always just have one hairstyle throughout an entire movie, usually that’s what you see. But, Stacey and I, in both movies that we’ve worked together, tried to show a lot of different hairstyles in a short amount of time.
SM: Our goal for Coming 2 America was for it to be a celebration of us. In the same way the original Coming to America influenced us when we were younger. We watched Coming to America and we became exalted and empowered seeing the royal imagery and the regalia. The story, the wardrobe, the makeup, the hair, we had great movies, but nothing that showed us [as royalty]. We wanted this movie to feel like that to other people. And we were glad to be a part of that. What Eddie did for us with Coming to America, that was our goal with a new generation. And I feel like we’ve achieved it.
CF: Well said, Stacey!