Gabrielle Union will host a special fireside conversation at the Black Beauty Roster (BBR) digital summit with a focus on diversifying Hollywood’s beauty industry on Feb. 28.
“Early in my career, I struggled to work with beauty professionals that were trained to work with my hair texture and skin tone,” Union said in a statement. “I can’t emphasize enough how important the work is that Black Beauty Roster is doing to transform the industry and ensure every individual who sits in a beauty professional’s chair walks away feeling flawless.”
“Flawless” is a hallmark of Union’s business: The star co-founded the texture-specific hair care line Flawless by Gabrielle Union with her personal hairstylist Larry Sims. Sims will appear alongside Union at the L’Oréal and Showtime-sponsored event, which also features makeup artist Sir John (whose clients include Beyoncé and Chrissy Teigen), hairstylist Vernon François (Lupita Nyong’o and Serena Williams) and model Mamé Adjei — all of whom are members of BBR’s leadership council.
Union has often spoken out about the entertainment industry’s responsibility to consider the needs of Black performers and other people of color in the hair and makeup trailers on set. “The lack of diversity in the LA unions is a real problem as well & the goal posts move depending on who is trying to get in,” she tweeted in July.
“We’re very excited to have her lend her voice to this,” BBR co-founder Simone Tetteh tells Variety of Union’s participation in the six-hour, live-streamed event. “[She] has been very vocal about her experience as a Black actress navigating the beauty landscape and being vocal in the opposition she’s faced early in her career.”
The conversation about representation in the hair and makeup department is one that’s grown louder in recent months (though it’s been an issue in the entertainment industry for decades), amid calls for racial equality in Hollywood and beyond.
Tetteh and her co-founder Maude Okrah got involved after creating the beauty concierge service Bonnti in 2017 and later developing the Black Beauty Roster collective. Both companies were formed in response to the challenges they personally faced finding beauty professionals who were experienced in working with Black women, and then learning that the issue was just as pervasive in the film and television business as it was in their everyday lives. Then, they began to discover the barriers of entry for beauty professionals of color to get those lucrative onset jobs.
“Initially, what we saw was talent was expressing their frustrations through Twitter and other platforms and we, of course, heard it from the beauty professional side, as well as producers, talent and managers,” BBR co-founder Maude Okrah recalls. “But they all weren’t having the conversation together. So, we took a moment and said, ‘We have to get everyone into a room where we can actually have the conversation to create sustainable change.’”
So, in September, Tetteh, Okrah and their BBR leadership council began planning the virtual conference, which aims to address the problem by providing tips about breaking into the film and television business, among other practical tips and insights for any makeup artist or hair stylist working with textured hair or darker complexions.
The lineup for the interactive event includes panel discussions and fireside chats like Union’s — where audience members can ask questions and engage in a virtual conversation — plus masterclass tutorials (like a L’Oreal-sponsored session on complexion matching for darker skin tones). The digital event is targeted toward hair stylists, make-up artists, talent, influencers, publicists and beauty schools, all in hopes of getting everyone on the same page.
“I do believe that a lot of people that are in positions of influence want to do the right thing, but they’re not sure exactly what to do,” Okrah says. “I think the conference shining a light onto some of the challenges and hearing directly from those respective beauty professionals, with the talent and the publicists in the room, is going to help with driving that change.”
The digital summit will take place from 12 – 6pm ET and registration is free.