Not only is Black Panther breaking box office records, the Marvel blockbuster is setting all sorts of cultural milestones as well (even former first lady Michelle Obama has weighed in on its importance). As fans flock to theaters to take in the setting, soundtrack, fashion and overall Black excellence, we’re especially excited for the film’s celebration of natural hair — so we reached out to the film’s lead hairstylist, Camille Friend, for the inside scoop on how the character’s styles came to life.
“I feel like I was born a hairdresser,” Friend told PeopleStyle a few days ahead of the film’s release. A third-generation hairstylist, “there was never any other career I wanted to have.” The Tempe, Arizona native, who as a kid would assist in her family members’ salons, has helped shape the face of movie and TV characters for more than 20 years. And now, Friend is reflecting on her latest work, a celebration of natural Black hair on the big screen.
“I love creating iconic looks that people can think about and be about forever.” — Camille Friend
People: What was your reaction when you found out you’d be hair department head for the film?
Friend: “Excited. Overwhelmed. It’s funny I was actually working on Guardians of the Galaxy when producer Nate Moore at Marvel gave me a call and was like ‘We want you to do Black Panther. Anytime you have an opportunity to create a whole new universe, you can’t miss that. But especially as a black woman, for the black community, I took it really, really seriously. This is the first black superhero so you want to give him the best coming out party. I hope we did that with this movie.”
People: How long did you have to concept the looks — and what was your process?
Friend: “About three months before we began filming we started looking at images and talking about the clothing with [costume designer] Ruth E. Carter. First, I looked at very traditional African hairstyles, fabrics, and the landscape itself. Then I looked at modern African-American hair—the natural hair movement, and the Afro Punk movement, which I love, because it’s a very young movement so it’s color, it’s bright, it’s funky. And the third part for me was very futuristic, because they are the most technologically advanced society. So all of those elements came into play.”
People: How many hairstylists did you have on hand at any given time?
Friend: “The main team was five or six people. But when we had really big scenes, there would be 25 to 30 hairdressers. Every hair piece you see in the movie was made by hand. I joke that there is no 1-800-African-Hair [hotline]. I wasn’t something we bought at a store, it was created with our hands, and that’s what makes this movie great, to me.”
People: Where are all the wigs now?
Friend: “With Marvel, of course!”
People: With all eyes on the first black superhero movie, how important was it to you to spread a message through beauty?
Friend: “I just wanted people to know that it doesn’t matter what your hair is like, all black people are beautiful. So for me this is one of the high points of my career. I can always look back and say, ‘We did a movie that was really well accepted and we might change the world and people’s perceptions by this movie.’ I think that’s one of the greatest things.”
People: What do you do when you’re not concepting looks for movies?
Friend: “I have a teaching company, Hair Scholars, where I teach what we do in the business to hair stylists and and barbers. I really want to pass on the skills that people passed onto me so that other people to have the opportunity to work on great movies like the ones I have worked for Marvel. It really is my greatest passion.”
Read on for details about each character’s epic hair.
Angela Bassett as Ramonda
Friend: “I wanted to work with Angela my whole career, so when I heard she was in it I was like, ‘This is my opportunity!’ She has been in a lot of films; people have seen her in a lot of ways, so I just wanted to give her character something different. We talked about giving her these beautiful dreadlocks [and] I wanted to make them gray because I did want to show that she was a little older. Angela was totally into it. It’s really an interesting piece because all the dreadlocks are handmade by Louisa Anthony and inserted into the base of the wig. It was a really big process (that took about eight weeks!) but in the end I think the look is so, so stunning. I think it came out really well.”
Lupita Nyong’o as Nakia
Friend: “Nakia is the Black Panther’s love interest but one thing I love about her is she is strong, she’s a fighter. Throughout the movie she has two looks, one of which I coined the Wakanda knots. It’s basically a natural hair wig that we shampooed and conditioned and section by section we twisted the hair down upon itself to it make it look like a cinnamon roll. Then after it dries, we pull it up.”
Letitia Wright as Shuri
Friend: “Director Ryan Coogler was really into how Letitia was going to look because her character is our technological officer who comes up with the Black Panther’s suits and gadgets. She’s very smart, young and hip and she had a lot of costume changes so we wanted to be able to establish different looks for every wardrobe change. We decided to give her individual micro braids that we could move and bend really easily in order to create a lot of different styles. And we touched them up every two weeks to make sure they always looked good on camera.”
Danai Gurira as Okoye
“Danai is the head of the Doras, whose heads we shaved every single day because their heads are adorned with temporary tattoos. The first day that we had to shave everybody’s heads there were some tears, but Marvel was really up-front with people about what we were going to do and we made sure to hold each woman’s hand and take our time.”
Michael B. Jordan as Erik Killmonger
Friend: “We wanted to give him a really different look because he’s the antagonist. And Michael has such swagger, after seeing his clothes, I thought, Let’s give this guy something really, really cool. Michael really grew his hair out really long, so all we did with him was add dreadlock extensions. And we gave him hats so he could cover the look when he wasn’t on set. He was really good about keeping the style under wraps!”
Daniel Kaluuya as W’Kabi
Friend: “He is the leader of security for the Border Tribe, and since they are like the military we wanted to give them their own look: A military-inspired high and tight fade. The first time our barber Victor Paz faded out Daniel’s hair, Daniel was like ‘This is the tightest fade I ever had!’ And even though he wasn’t on set every day, he’d come in to maintain the look. He was into it from the beginning.”
Winston Duke as M’Baku
Friend: “We bleached the top of his hair! He was so tall, I thought his hair would [disappear]. I didn’t want that, so we just kind of gave him a sun-kissed look off the tips of his hair to just give his hair some light.”