Oscars 2019 Controversy: How Important is Hair and Makeup in Film?

If the last few years have taught us anything, it is that the Oscar’s are nothing short of controversial. The 2013 awards saw Seth McFarlane tank with tasteless domestic violence jokes, and 2016 became the year of celebrity boycotting, a direct result of the predominantly white nominations list. So, it is no surprise that the Academy is ringing in the New Year with yet another controversial decision – one that has sparked mass outrage within the film industry.

On Monday 11th February, the Academy emailed its members to announce broadcasting changes, aiming to reduce the show’s running time to just three hours. Their solution: to present the awards for best cinematography, editing, live-action short, and make-up and hairstyling during the ad breaks. And believe me, they are going to be paying for this one for a while.

More than 40 cinematographers and directors have taken to Twitter in protest, the likes of Russell Crowe, Seth Rogan, and Guillermo del Toro openly expressing their disappointment. Having made the decision in a bid to increase viewing figures, industry-leaders have deemed the Academy’s strategy both damaging and insulting.

In a newly-released letter signed by over 90 creatives, signees such as Ang Lee, Quentin Tarantino, and Martin Scorsese argue that such blatant side-lining reduces the value of these cinematic crafts. Swiftly backtracking in response to media criticism, the Academy has since revoked their decision and will now be presenting the awards in these four categories as part of the live broadcast. But amidst this whirl wind of controversy, film lovers everywhere are left considering which components are actually key to the film-making process.

“Cinema is by nature a highly visual experience.”

An interesting outcome, cinematography, editing, and live-action short are the categories which have received most outrage in their initial exclusion, with big-names arguing that there is no cinema without cinematography. And while this holds true, the lack of response towards the relegation of make-up and hairstyling is extremely surprising. A power-house industry continually increasing with the rise of YouTube stars and Instagrammers, how is it that the beauty sector is recognised online rather than on film? With such talented artists nominated in this year’s make-up and hairstyling category one thing is clear – there is no substance without style.

Cinema is by nature a highly visual experience—before a character can utter their first words we form an opinion of them based on appearance. The eyes may be the windows to the soul but what about the bags beneath the eyes? The broken nose or the subtle scars? Hair and make-up are responsible for the underlying subtext of a character, telling us everything we need to know from age to psychology. With the ability to turn actors into characters, this year’s nominees have proven makeup and hair to be a note-worthy art form.

Dubbed the ‘year of prosthetics’, 2018 saw The Darkest Hour take home the award for make-up and hair as the world marvelled at Gary Oldman’s take on Winston Churchill. And this year a similar theme is emerging with prosthetic based biopic, Vice, and Swedish indie, Border, heading in similar directions. Christian Bale’s transformation into former Vice President Dick Cheney had the actor wearing false bottom teeth, shaving his head for wigs, bleaching his eyebrows and wearing heavy prosthetics on his face and neck. Portraying the VP from the ages of 21 to 75, Bale’s take on Cheney’s life could only be realised with the talent of highly skilled designers, bringing realism to the time-spanning biopic.

Likewise, Border gave its hair and makeup artists six weeks to create half- human, half-troll characters with striking results. Focusing on the male and female leads, Göran Lundström and Pamela Goldammer crafted the central characters as the protagonist’s wore prosthetics on their noses, chins, ears, eyelids and foreheads. Producing visually compelling characters, the troll-humans that we see in Border boast of the ground-breaking developments in modern prosthetics.

And finally, the anomaly of the group, British drama Mary Queen of Scots uses a simpler form of make-up, applying false skin and wire-framed wigs to replicate the appearances of historical figures Mary and Elizabeth. Having strayed from such heavy-duty hair and makeup, the 2019 Oscars will be looking at the value of prosthetics over subtler forms. But if you ask me, anyone who can make Margot Robbie unattractive deserves an award!

Megan Bull

Main Images courtesy of @neonrated and @vicemovie via Instagram.

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