Lopez-Rivera knew immediately he had to convey the lack of access that Black women had to cosmetics. “I had to go back to where Ma Rainey came from,” the Spanish makeup artist says. “Her training wheels on-stage were in vaudeville. I’m having to fill in the blanks for when and where this woman learned to do makeup. Because there was no access, she has to make a lot of her stuff and apply it herself.”
So Lopez-Rivera, who’s done the faces of Andra McDonald, Allison Janney, Anika Noni Rose and Reese Witherspoon, used his pinky finger to tap, rub and draw all over Davis’s face. He intentionally made one eyebrow higher than the other to avoid creating symmetry or perfection. The BAFTA Award nominee relied on oral histories his grandmother often shared with him about women during the Spanish Civil War using burned wine corks and grease to make their own eyeshadow.
Ma Rainey, a wealthy woman who wore furs and jewels regardless of the season, did her own makeup at every tour stop. “I wanted to incorporate this DIY quality to Viola and her character,” says Lopez-Rivera. “Our job was to erase the 21st Century from Viola. When every department treats this material the same way with the same curiosity, authenticity and willingness to be very specific, this is what you get: a movie that’s so textured, authentic and beautiful.”
Receiving the Oscar nomination is a shared proud moment between Neal, Wilson and Lopez-Rivera. They’re grateful that they trusted Davis’s request. The trio hopes the honor, whether they win or not, will inspire more Black and brown creatives and those from underrepresented communities to seek out the possibilities that exist behind-the-scenes in entertainment.
“The possibilities are endless, and this nomination proves that,” Neal confirms. “Evolution is inevitable, and it’s happening. Any African-American or young person of color going into this field should know people do want diversity. Erase your own fears, doubts, and preconceived notions. You are wanted, and you will be welcomed. Go in and work hard because there is space for you, and we’re living examples of that.”