The Black-ish Hairstylists on Pandemic Looks, Emmy Nominations, and Lil Nas X
Over its remarkable seven-season run, Black-ish has remained consistently boundary breaking sitcom—both through its trend-setting potential and knack for encapsulating the moment. This commitment to representing the audience’s reality did not waver over the last year-and-a-half: while the pandemic compelled us to forgo the salon and grow our hair out at home, the show’s characters were in the same boat. Season seven saw Bow (Tracee Ellis Ross), Dre (Anthony Anderson), and their family adopting a lengthier and more natural approach to their hair, skipping elaborate salon-made styles in favor of at-home hair care. This transformation is thanks to Nena Ross and Stacey Morris, Black-ish’s Hair Department Head and celebrity hairstylist/barber, respectively. As the pandemic set in, Ross and Morris were determined to bring a level of creative escapism to their work, while also nodding to the realities of the current moment. Below, the pair discuss pandemic styling, their Emmy nomination, and which hairstyles they’d love to see make a comeback.
JULIANA UKIOMOGBE: First, I want to congratulate you both on your Emmy nomination for Outstanding Contemporary Hairstyling for Black-ish! What does this accomplishment mean to you?
STACEY MORRIS: It’s exciting and confirmation of all the hard work we’ve done over the years. It’s just nice to be recognized for those accolades.
NENA ROSS: I feel the same way. It’s a great accomplishment and it’s a great honor to be recognized by our peers and by the Academy. I’m grateful and honored to be a part of this awesome experience.
UKIOMOGBE: Transitioning to the show, what was your approach in creating each character’s hairstyles to reflect the pandemic?
ROSS: Everybody went into natural styling mode because, obviously, the hair salons were closed. I wanted to make sure that I kept everything true to the character, while also expressing some fashion-forward looks and adding hair accessories and jewelry to the styles to make them more contemporary.
UKIOMOGBE: Stacey, how did that look in terms of the men’s styling?
MORRIS: During the pandemic, everyone grew their hair out in real life and so did the actors. So when we came back, we just emulated life. We kept the longer styles and turned them into something instead of cutting the hair off. Anthony [Anderson]’s beard is longer and Marcus [Scribner]’s is, too. That was the look we were going for because it was relatable to viewers.
UKIOMOGBE: Outside of the context of the show, do you think the pandemic has permanently changed people’s relationship with their hair? Will people start going back to salons and doing what they used to do?
ROSS: I think things have changed. A lot of people will creep back into the salon experience, but I feel like people are understanding that they can do more styling on their own. During the pandemic, they’ve learned more about hair care and styling because there were no salons open, so they had to figure it out. I think a lot more people are going to stick with the natural styling.
UKIOMOGBE: How do you approach the hairstyles of the younger versus older actors on the show?
ROSS: Of course, with the younger actors, we want to keep it contemporary and fun for their age bracket. I was able to be more creative with the younger generation. As far as the more seasoned cast, we just go with elegance, style, and grace. All the styles are character-driven. With Tracee [Ellis Ross], sometimes we’ll look at a style and she’ll go “Oh, that’s something Bow would wear,” or “No, this is something Tracee would wear.” So, it’s about differentiating the character’s look from someone’s personal look.
UKIOMOGBE: Where do you get hair inspiration from? Are you looking at Instagram, music videos, or trends in pop culture?
MORRIS: I’m looking at what my peers are doing, looking at social media and real-life as well. Before the pandemic, I would frequent the salon. That’s important because it keeps your ear to the street. That’s where styles develop. Like, before Michael Jackson did the moonwalk on TV, there were kids in the neighborhood doing that for years. And once he did it, it became a trend. So, we don’t create all the styles—we take them and make them our own. Once we put it on a celebrity, then it becomes a trend.
ROSS: I agree with Stacey. Social media is where it’s at nowadays. You can see a variety of things that are out there, and you just take a piece of that, make it your own, and add your own flavor to it. I like to watch a lot of movies to get inspiration and I’ll also go to salons. It’s important for us to continue to do our homework in order to create these beautiful trends. That’s how we educate the public and the industry.
UKIOMOGBE: Are there any hair trends that you’d love to see make a comeback?
ROSS: Ooh. It’s funny you say that because styles don’t go away, right? They’re always making a comeback. I personally like the period of styling from the ‘30s and ‘40s—the finger waves. I’m also into ‘90s styles. I see those slowly coming back.
MORRIS: I like the ‘50s and the ‘60s, both for men and women. Not that this ever really went anywhere, but I’d love to see high tops from the ‘90s make a comeback. With the innovation that we have now, we could turn that into something totally different than what it was back then. It would be so cool.
UKIOMOGBE: In your opinion, what’s the best hair innovation in the past five to ten years that makes your jobs a lot easier?
MORRIS: Oh, for me, the best tool is the twist sponge. Back in the day, that was called “palm rolling” that we’d have to do by hand and now someone has created this incredible sponge. Like, why didn’t I think of this? And for the guys, some of the innovative things that we’re doing with beards are absolutely incredible. You can put designs and curls in beards now. It’s just crazy and I love it.
UKIOMOGBE: Speaking of that, you’re also Lil Nas X’s personal hairstylist and he’s always doing such cool and different things with his hair.
MORRIS: Oh, I love it. He is setting some trends as well. He’s open to everything and he’s not afraid. I get to be extra creative with him. I’m doing things that I’ve never done before and that I’ve always wanted to try on someone, but there was no one to try it on, you know? Working with him has really elevated my craft.
UKIOMOGBE: Is there anything else you want to add about your work or hair care in general?
MORRIS: One of the challenges of working through the pandemic was all the PPE and following protocols. We then had to maintain these styles and make sure they look properly for the camera, especially when your actors just took off a shield or a mask. That’s one of the major challenges of working through the pandemic and how everything has changed with production.
ROSS: In creating all the looks for the show, we go through a lot of preparation as far as scheduling. We typically have to do three or four looks, so we just needed to make sure that we kept up with the continuity of the show. Having a great team is really what got us to where we are now.