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Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom Oscar-winner hopes ‘one day it will be normal’ for Black trans women to win big

Josh Milton April 26, 2021
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Mia Neal triumphantly holds her Oscar award in a navy dress on the Oscars red carpet

Mia Neal, winner of Makeup and Hairstyling for Ma Rainey's Black Bottom. (Chris Pizzello-Pool/Getty Images)

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom stylist Mia Neal has said “one day it will be normal” for Black trans women to win big in the Oscars.

The hair department head was joined by Viola Davis‘ personal hairstylist Jamika Wilson to become the first Black women to win the top award for hair and make-up.

The pair won alongside Davis’ make-up artist Sergio Lopez-Rivera.

In one of many historic breakthroughs at the 93rd Academy Award Sunday night (25 April), Neal spoke on how novel their win remains in an earnest acceptance speech.

“I stand here, as Jamika and I break this glass ceiling, with so much excitement for the future,” she told the small, in-person audience – and the millions tuning in virtually.

“Because I can picture Black trans women standing up here, and Asian sisters, and our Latina sisters and Indigenous women.

“And I know that one day it won’t be unusual or groundbreaking – it will just be normal.”

Neal, who created more than 100 wigs in less than three weeks for the film about bisexual blues singer, Gertrude ‘Ma’ Rainey, also urged resilience as she reflected on the history-making win.

“I was raised by my grandfather James Holland,” she said on stage.

“He was an original Tuskegee Airmen, he represented the US in the first Pan Am games, he went to Argentina he met [Eva ‘Evita’ Perón], he graduated from Northwestern University at a time that they did not allow Blacks to stay on campus, so he stayed at the YMCA.

“And after all of his accomplishments, he went back to his hometown in hopes of becoming a teacher. But they did not hire Blacks in the school system.

“So I wanted to say thank you to our ancestors who put the work in, were denied, but never gave up.”

Mia Neal, Sergio Lopez-Rivera and Jamika Wilson cry on one another's shoulders
(L-R) Mia Neal, Sergio Lopez-Rivera and Jamika Wilson, winners of the Makeup and Hairstyling award for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. (Richard Harbaugh/A.M.P.A.S. via Getty Images)

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, which was nominated for five Academy Awards, is set during a tense recording session in Chicago, Illinois.

Rainey, the revered “mother of the blues“, dazzled audiences with her straight-talking sets and smouldering charm. The contralto belted out songs about her bisexuality four decades before the Stonewall uprising.

In bringing Rainey to life, Neal told Variety backstage: “I always felt a strong connection to my ancestors.”

“I never feel what I’m doing in the world is me, I always feel like I am covered and protected by them.

“We all get our gifts through our DNA, so I feel like I’m not only living out my dreams, but I’m living out my ancestors’ dreams.

“I love reading about things I love, especially Black history because we didn’t get that at school.

“This [film] was right in line with everything that I love. It is history, it is Black history, it is American history.”

Related topics: Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, Oscars

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