Black Women Who Broke Barriers

Bernadine Anderson paved the way for Black women in the beauty industry as the first African-American makeup artist in Hollywood. Film studios in 1968 had a closed-door policy. Bernadine, attempting to kick-start her career in entertainment, was denied access because of the color of her skin. Anderson filed a class-action lawsuit for being discriminated against and earned a three-year apprenticeship with Warner Bros, where she launched her career.

Bernadine’s makeup case is displayed in the Smithsonian Museum. In a Smithsonian interview, Anderson said, “They wouldn’t let minorities in. It was a very hard industry to break; no matter how hard you tried, you just couldn’t break it.” Bernadine was the first Black person and the first Black woman to break the industry’s union. Bernadine trained to work with actors, actresses, doubles, and stuntmen. She focused her work on ensuring that stuntmen looked identical in figure, hair, and face to primary actors in films. Bernadine was head of the makeup department and supervisor for epic movies. “Coming to America” (1988), “Vampire in Brooklyn” (1995), “What’s Love Got to Do with It” (1983), “Boomerang” (1992), and “Harlem Nights” (1989) showcased her work beautifully. Anderson was a makeup artist for print publications and independent films centered on telling Black stories and print publications.

Bernadine worked with Jane Fonda, Eddie Murphy, and Cicely Tyson for over the span of eight years. Fonda, in particular, personally requested Bernadine to be her artist for ten of her films. Fonda advocated for Bernadine, actively demanding that unions be accountable when they block diversity and demand they do better. Bernadine’s 20-year career led to many accolades. She was the first Black woman to gain membership in the IATSE Local 706, Makeup Artists and Hairstylists Guild.

Madam CJ Walker, born Sarah Breedlove, is among the first wealthiest, self-made, Black businesswomen in America. She made a fortune from her homemade line of hair-care products for Black women. Sarah created hair products after experiencing hair loss due to a scalp disorder. She produced the Walker Method or Walker System of scalp preparations, lotions, iron combs, and custom pomades.

During the early 1900s, black hair products were manufactured and created by white businesses. Sarah wanted to emphasize attention to the health of Black women through the Walker System of hair care. Sarah and her husband worked together to promote and build a business empire. They hired beauty culturalists to hand-sell her products door to door, teaching Black women how to groom and style their hair. Sarah’s method was designed to promote hair growth and condition the scalp by using strenuous brushing and serums.

Due to the Walker System’s major success, Sarah funded scholarships for women and donated to the NAACP, YMCAs for Black families, and other charities. She became a philanthropist and social, political activist who promoted female empowerment. Throughout her life, Sarah taught Black women how to budget and build their own businesses. She encouraged women to become financially independent. Sarah was a patron of the arts and shared her wealth through donations to numerous organizations.

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