Cynthia Erivo’s facial expression brought intensity to “Harriet” says makeup artist Angie Wells

It tells the extraordinary tale of Harriet Tubman’s escape from slavery and transformation into one of America’s greatest heroes and has received several accolades including 10 NAACP Image Awards nominations. For award-winning makeup artist Angie Wells, who has worked on several high-profile period films, it’s a film highly deserving of the recognition.

Artist Angela Wells
Artist Angela Wells

“Harriet” received NAACP Image Award nominations for best soundtrack, outstanding motion picture, best director for Kasi Lemmons, supporting acting nods for Leslie Odom Jr., Janelle Monáe and a best actress and breakthrough performance for its lead actress Cynthia Erivo, who also received two Oscar nomination nods on Monday.

“Harriet is one of the great people who walked on the earth and I hope it encourages people to learn more about her for it’s important to appreciate what she had to go through,” says Wells, a makeup artist and hair stylist whose film and television credits include the period drama “Mudbound” and ABC’s “Black-ish.”

Hair and makeup were key to recreating how the 19th century characters would have looked and for Wells, who endured several weeks of research, it was imperative to accurately depict the look of that era. “When I looked up photos of slaves, the photos I found when they were at their homes with their families, they were not dirty. The only time you would see dirt is when they were in the fields. Their clothes may not have been fashionable and may have been worn and a little stained because they were not getting new clothes all the time, but they were not dirty, and it was really important to me to show that. I wanted to be as authentic as I could.”

Cynthia Erivo stars as Harriet Tubman in HARRIET
Cynthia Erivo stars as Harriet Tubman in HARRIET

For Harriet, played by Cynthia Erivo, Wells worked through different techniques changing her look as she evolves into a heroine. “When she becomes Harriet, I make her features sharper to show her beautiful cheekbones. No contouring and no real shading, but as she became Harriet, I shaded and highlighted to give a little more definition to the face because Harriet has a very intense look. Cynthia also helped by using her facial expression, which brought intensity to the look,” she continues. “It’s something people may not be conscious of, but as a makeup artist and someone who is aware of the total look of the face, I appreciated that,” adds Wells, a Jazz singer who was touring in France when she received the call to work on the film.

“My agent said there is a project I am going to submit you for called Harriet Tubman and they called me back and said they want you. They sent me the script and I remember thinking this is not a slave drama, this is an action superhero movie. Harriet is someone I admire, and I wanted to see it told the way it was written as we have all seen enough slave movies. This is a historical story that needs to be told in a way that even children can enjoy it for we get to see her as a woman and not just as a mythical character,” adds the Philadelphia native who is working on getting a screening of the film at her son’s school for Black History month.

The 51st NAACP Image Awards winners will be revealed on BET Networks on Saturday, February 22, 8/7c and the 92nd Oscars will be held on Sunday, February 9, at the Dolby Theater at Hollywood & Highland Center in Hollywood.

Samantha Ofole-Prince is a journalist and movie critic who covers industry-specific news that includes television and film. She serves as the Entertainment Editor for Trendy Africa.

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