‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’ Hairstylist Camille Friend Wants to Keep Inspiring ‘Joy and Pride’

The Oscar nominee talks to TheWrap about why she loves working with Marvel and the need for greater equity in her field

Angela Bassett Camille Friend Hairstylist
Angela Bassett in "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever"; (inset) Hair designer Camille Friend

Hairdressing is a family business for Camille Friend. The esteemed hair designer, whose 25 years in the film industry has included credits on many Marvel, Warner Bros. and Disney movies and collaborations with Christopher Nolan, Jordan Peele, Quentin Tarantino and Kathryn Bigelow, last month earned her first career Oscar nomination for her rich, complex work on “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.”

Friend’s nomination marks just the third year that the Best Makeup and Hairstyling category has included a Black artist, after Mia Neal and Jamika Wilson (winners in 2021 for “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”) and Carla Farmer and Stacey Morris (nominated last year for “Coming 2 America”).

Growing up in Tempe, Arizona, Friend can trace the love for hair in her family back at least three generations. “My great-great-grandfather had seven girls and he wanted his girls to have a trade,” she told TheWrap. “Growing up in that time, what were Black women going to do as a trade, aside from being a domestic? So his girls went to beauty school, which gave them a viable skill. My grandmother was a hairstylist, my step-grandmother was a hairstylist. My family is big on entrepreneurship.”

Friend is close with many of her first cousins, who are also hairdressers. “But they’ve said to me, ‘Cammie, you took the family business to the next level,’” she explained with a smile. “I’m so appreciative of that support and trust. And I think about my ancestors and everything they went through. That’s why I’m here.” 

The “next level” quality of Friend’s career also extends to her frank, raw honesty about the challenges still faced by people of color in her industry. At a virtual roundtable last year organized by the Producers Guild of America, focused on Hair and Makeup Equity, Friend offered plainspoken truth about her own experience — and about the experiences of Black actors and actresses who have encountered hair designers woefully ill-equipped to style Black hair.

“I have sat and cried on Zoom with actors for hours,” she said during the roundtable. “Because of the pain and the grief and everything that they went through. Even when I think about it, it makes me feel emotional. I get hired for big movies because I can style the hair of anybody who sits in my chair. It’s not an excuse (for stylists) that the hair is a different texture.”

In a warm and engaging conversation — Friend lives up to her last name — she talked further about the issues of equity in her profession, plus creating Angela Bassett’s magisterial gray locks and the one Oscar nominee experience she’s most excited about.

Congratulations on your first Oscar nomination. You’d been on the shortlist two other times but you didn’t make it into the final five.

Yeah, twice on the shortlist and I didn’t get there, but there were so many lessons to learn from those experiences too. I’m still learning and it’s been beautiful. Getting to this point is a dream.

Were you awake at 5:30 in the morning to watch the nominations on TV?

I was up bright and early. I was really blessed, because my manager Alicia was there and one of my dear friends, Evelyn, who also worked on “Black Panther.” I was so surprised in the moment. I kept asking them, “Are you sure they said my name?”

Your two previous times on the makeup/hair shortlist were for “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” and the first “Black Panther.” How many Marvel films have you worked on?

“Wakanda Forever” is my seventh movie with Marvel. Marvel is my favorite collaborator. They give you everything you need to make a movie. It’s not just about money; it’s about the support. That’s the backbone of production. A wig can be coming from L.A. or London and we need to fit this wig on an actor in Vietnam. And then everybody pitches in and it’s like, “OK, I know a person who knows a person who’s in Vietnam right now and they can do it.” And Marvel is helping to facilitate all these things, with all the moving parts.  

Also, it might be a sci-fi/fantasy film, but cultural authenticity is very important to you and your team, isn’t it?

Oh, definitely. We had a professor, his name is Gerardo Aldana of UC Santa Barbara, and he was very instrumental in helping us figure out the Talokanil (“Wakanda Forever” characters who are inspired by Mesoamerican societies and mythology). When you’re doing something cultural, you want to be sure you’re doing the best you can in terms of due diligence. So like we did in the first “Black Panther” with the African culture, we did the same thing with the Latin culture in this. No matter what, I want audiences who identify with these cultures to feel the joy and pride. 

Did you have a direct line with the professor to fact-check details with him?

For sure. Professor Aldana was excellent. I would send him “looks” of the characters. And he would say, “Yes, but this hair would be worn on a single woman instead of a married woman,” for instance. All those intricate parts that he knew were essential for us. And then we could go into (director) Ryan Coogler’s office, all of us crammed in, like a big think tank. And we could get Professor Aldana on the big TV and just shoot questions at him.

And you don’t feel limited by that, right? It sounds like it can expand your creativity.

Oh, it opens up the road. Once you have the map, you realize, “I can go over here, I can go over there, I can turn it this way.’” I remember one day we were filming second unit and the guys who did the visual effects were scanning the Talokanil characters into their computers. And they were like, “God, Camille, these hairstyles are really gorgeous.” And they don’t have to say that to me. But after they scanned 35 people, they realized how intricate our work was.

These departments on a film really do work in tandem, don’t they? The parts react off each other?

Absolutely. At any time I can call or text Jeffrey Bowman, who’s our visual effects director, who also got nominated. If I know Jeffrey’s going to be somewhere, I can just ride my bike over to ask him a question. He’s always willing to say, “This is where the effects are going to stop, so this is where you need to start.” Because it is a big collaboration. We take it as far as we can and then they pick it up for us.

And that also applied to how is the hair works with the costumes and the production design and the makeup, by my great colleague Joel Harlow. And the sound department. If the actor is going to have an earpiece, the hair needs to be styled this way instead of that way. All those little tiny details that go into what we do.

Can we talk about Angela’s Bassett’s gray dreadlocks, which we saw in “Black Panther” and we see in the first scene of “Wakana Forever.” That wig is just something incredible.

Ryan Coogler’s mom has beautiful long locks. She is regal and beautiful and kind of floats into the room. She has that similar energy as Angela Bassett. I said to Ryan, “Wouldn’t it be great to give Angela locks like your mom?” But we wanted to make them platinum gray.

We gave her these 20-inch locks, which were handmade and used five different colors. I just had the confidence that it would look great for the Queen. It was hard work but I had the confidence that we could break ground and that we could tell people that Black hair is beautiful.

We also see Queen Ramonda’s hair when it’s much shorter in “Wakanda Forever.”

Ryan’s idea was to indicate that in some West African cultures, after somebody has died, you shave your head. So what would that look like if she had shaved her head a year prior when her son died and her hair had grown out. So we kept Angela in the platinum gray with the light hair, but it was shorter, making it look like a crown. 

Angela Bassett in “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” (Disney)

Is it also really exciting for you that Angela Bassett was honored with an Oscar nomination? She’s the first performer ever nominated for a Marvel movie.

Angela is the best. When she was filming with us, she was also doing her TV show (“9-1-1”). So she’d be flying from her TV show, coming to film with us and have to be the Queen. So that means: accent, clothes, and the tiredness and having a life and all those things. I really saw her as a person. 

Sometimes I’d just touch her shoulder, and say, “Angie, I’m thinking about you. Do you need anything?” Because she was working hard, with that kind of schedule and the kind of performance she was giving. I’m usually crying when she’s on camera. On the nomination morning, she was one of the first people to call me. She was like, “I had to call you today.” I said, “I was gonna call you but I figured you were busy.” And she said, “That’s why I called you first.” That’s the kind of lady she is. She’s a great human being and this all is much deserved.

I still love watching actors. After all these years, it’s still magical. You get to see Angela — it’s the little movements, it’s the way she moves her body, it’s the subtleties. I’ve been catching up with all the different movies out right now. I was watching “Tár,” the incredible way that Cate Blanchett moves in that. I was watching “Empire of Light” with Olivia Colman. I’ve been blown away by the great performances by women this year. 

Last year, you spoke so candidly on the PGA roundtable about Hair and Makeup Equity last year. The video began with various performers relating their own awful, hurtful experiences with hair designers. And you spoke about the great emotional weight that is carried by people of color in the industry.

I’m gonna tell you: That PGA roundtable interview was another pivot. I don’t really talk about this stuff too much. And I didn’t know what to expect going in to that interview. Beforehand, there were a lot of people talking to me and telling me, “Be careful what you say, don’t say this, don’t say that.”

People were advising you not to challenge the system?

Yes. And so I remember crying that morning. My boyfriend at the time said to me, “Honey, you have to speak your truth.”

And I decided that day to be brave. I speak for this business and what I said that morning is my truth. I do want us to be better and we just need to get there. As hair and makeup people, no matter what is the skin tone of the person who sits in our chair, no matter what is the hair texture, we have to know how to do it. In this day and age. Now. There are no excuses for not knowing. That’s unacceptable.

Have you received positive feedback?

The outcry that’s emerged around this issue has been great and I have so many studios that I talk to about it. And from the unions to the studios, people are starting to get it. They want us to make change. And I’m so happy that I get the opportunity to facilitate that change. That’s important, and going forward, with my company, Hair Scholars, we’re going to keep educating and teaching. I’m passionate about teaching the art of hair design, but It’s also important to teach people about the business side of the the movie business. 

Your nomination also gives you the power and the clout to speak out more. It’s your first nomination but I don’t think it’s your last.

That’s right. [Smiling] We got “The Little Mermaid” coming up this year. I’ve been doing the look for Halle Bailey. I’ve talked to (producer) Mark Platt and looking forward in a couple weeks to seeing the first cut of that film. There are a lot of underwater scenes, which was also a big challenge on “Wakanda Forever.” You can have a beautiful hair style but it might not be beautiful underwater. So that part of the job is all about figuring out how to set the hair, a pin here or a pin there, so when it moves underwater, it stays in place.

What are you most looking forward to about the Oscars experience?

I have to tell you, I know it’s a great honor to be nominated for an Oscar, but my whole career I’ve always wanted to go to the Oscar Nominees Luncheon. I’m even more excited about that. I just want to be there and have my picture taken with the whole group. And say “hi” to some old friends and meet a few new friends.