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The Color Purple Makeup Department Head Carol Rasheed On Aging Actors for The Epic Musical Drama

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A scene from The Color Purple (Credit: Warner Bros)

Fantasia Barino, Colman Domingo, and Taraji P. Henson star in the new musical version adaptation of Alice Walker’s classic novel, The Color Purple. The film follows Celie (Barino) through the span of five decades of suffering, abuse at the hands of her husband Mister (Doming), separation from her sister, and her encounters with various other women who similarly endure suffering in the early American century, such as Shug (Henson) and Sofia (Danielle Brooks).

Of course, the original film adaptation of the novel, Steven Spielberg’s 1980s film starring Oprah Winfrey and Whoopi Goldberg, is a classic in its own right. Back then, though, aging movie stars in epics spanning years focused almost entirely on graying hair and a handful of touches. Today’s makeup artists are far more involved and sophisticated even in pictures that do not involve heavy prosthetics or non-human features. The new Color Purple, directed by Blitz Bazawule and adapted from the musical version of the story, is no exception.

Enter celebrated and talented makeup artist Carol Rasheed, an industry veteran who has worked on TV and film as varied as The First Lady and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. In this film, she had the challenging task of not simply making up a bulky cast of talented actors, but doing so across the various episodes and decades that the movie spans. The job is inherently challenging given that the film is set in nearly a dozen different time periods, requiring the aging work to occur slowly, almost imperceptibly.

Read on to find out how Rasheed went about tackling making these very well-known actors look subtly but convincingly aging in increasingly noticeable ways.

Below the Line: How are you feeling Carol? You must be super excited that this project is now out in the world? 

Carol Rasheed: It goes without saying that I’m super excited, but I am also kind of overwhelmed. I do not know what I was thinking when I agreed to work on The Color Purple! (Laughing). I just thought: “Oh, ok, it’s The Color Purple.” It’s how I approach everything, I try not to get starstruck. I just go into it trying to produce my best work with every project. So the good thing was I did not feel any added pressure.

But, with projects that are iconic, you still really have to make sure you get it right, in terms of the look of the film. Particularly for something that has already been done before. That is a concern that can weigh on you heavily. Needless to say, I felt that here.

But, the feedback we have been receiving has been phenomenal. When you look at your own work, your eye is very critical. And my eye is very critical. When I watch movies I’m looking at the work, and I had to see it. I’ve seen it three times and I was blown away by the film. 

BTL: It is wonderful to see a reimagining, which, of course, spans so many years. So how do you make the actors look differently?

Rasheed: The good thing about the director, Blitz, is that he was very specific about what he wanted to see. He had boards about the film. Over a six month period I got information in terms of music that was going to be attached, he sent us his own images. I then did my own boards and submitted them to him, with all the major characters. Celie, Sofia, Shug, Mister, those were the main characters I presented to him as they age. They start out young and I, of course, was thinking to myself: “How am I going to make these characters evolve?”

We had scenes were, for example, Mister started out young and not only did he age, but he also had a lot of trials. He worked out in the fields. So he was really broken down. Celie’s character—same thing. As the movie progresses on, she is gradually aging but also going through dark times. I start breaking her makeup down, darkening her eyes, taking the color out of her lips. Not having her look pristine. Some of the fantasy elements, I was able to play a bit more, like adding rosiness to her skin.

So I gave the skin a bit of a jazzed up look to her lips, popping more color on her eye, putting a small lash on her for her fantasy scenes, and then aging her by taking color out of her skin, or taking down the color of her lips just a bit. This was all strategic to build on the character and breaking the character down as needed.

A scene from The Color Purple (Credit: Warner Bros.)

BTL: Was there any particular thing or direction you got from Blitz?

Rasheed: He wanted us as Black Women to be presented with our melatonin popping, having our black skin represented. Not made up. He really wanted to show how black skin ages, we age differently. He also wanted to make sure we were not overly aged. Sometimes you see that a lot with black people. 

BTL: Understanding that you wanted to show real age, how did you handle the fact that some of the skips in time were longer and some were shorter?

Rasheed: Definitely adding wrinkles—sometimes more, sometimes fewer. You can see in my own eyes the crows’ feet, so I added those. Sometimes as we get older the color bleeds out of our skin, as opposed to when we look youthful when you have glow. Greying the brows a thing with Colman. I added grey hair to his mustache and around his eyes.

I did the same thing for Fantasia, and then the same thing with Danielle Brooks. Remember we start in 1910 and go up through 1946. It’s definitely a broad range. In the beginning there was no aging, just used the skin we had.

When traumatic things happened, like when Sofia was beat up by the mob, we had to provide other things like a bloody nose and bruises. I had to have contact lenses made to give the broken vessel in her eye. We did all of that beforehand in boards.

BTL: Any prosthetics?

Rasheed: Everything was done manually. There was a head bump that the character Harpo (Corey Hawkins) gets after a fight, so we had to do it to make it look like a bump.

BTL: When you’re doing makeup that they might apply—what colors and why?

Rasheed: We had a lip trio called “the evolution of rouge.” My goal was that the main ladies had slightly different shades of red. Specific to Celie and Sofia, I tried so many different reds. I mixed and premixed colors to come up with the types of reds that I was going to use. So a lot of reds, but mixed up and created. There’s a scene in the movie where Shug puts on makeup on Celie, and it was a blue-type red that was similar to what Shug (Taraji) was going to be wearing, but that was about it.

BTL: Any other tricks that you used?

Rasheed: Sometimes we even mix a liner with a lip color, to create depth within that color. And, for the aging process specifically with darker skin, the “trick” was less is more. We did nothing dramatic, only subtle aging. 

A scene from The Color Purple (Credit: Warner Bros.)

BTL: What relationship if any did you want your work to have to the original movie?

Rasheed: Blitz really allowed me to make it my own. That creatively was heaven, when you are able to look at what has been done and you take a little bit of that but you make it your own.

For example, the beating of Sofia, in the first Color Purple she had a bruise in her eye. The bruise in this one is there, it creates the same feeling, but it’s translated in a different way by me using a lens. They did not have that technology then and it looks different.

BTL: What were some of the greatest creative challenges you faced here? 

Rasheed: We had dozens of tattoos and we filmed a lot of the movie in the depth of summer in Savannah, Georgia. Trying to keep up the makeup for covering the neck tattoos, the arm tattoos. Covering piercing in the noses and the ears. People in the early 1900s did not have any of them. That was hard. I was using an alcohol-based tattoo coverup. We airbrushed and then filled the heck out of them. My goal was to cover up things quickly and well every day. And the product had to not get on the clothing and stay on the skin. 

BTL: What are the biggest things you take with you?

Rasheed: Well, I was so happy with some of the colors we created, I transformed them into my own line! I created the lip trio now—“The Evolution of Rouge.” It’s very similar to the ones we used. They’re called Hope, Resilient, and Inspiration. All of this is paying homage to The Color Purple. Oprah ran a full page article on my brand in her December Oprah’s Favorite Thing magazine. 

This movie was particularly inspiring. I’ve always dabbled in makeup and had lines here and there. But this was a collection of lipsticks that I specifically wanted to pay homage to the movie with. The idea is to let people know that they represent what the words say. There are blue red, berry red, and orange red. The ladies in the movie are in those different tones of red, with affirming words.

Ultimately, I am so hoping that people walk out of that theater embracing Hope, their own Inspiration, their Resilience and being Resilient. Those are the reasons I came up with those names.

The Color Purple is now playing in theaters.

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