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Marietta Carter-Narcisse (‘Genius: Aretha’ makeup department) on becoming 1st Black makeup artist in AMPAS [EXCLUSIVE VIDEO INTERVIEW]

“I am the first Black makeup artist to be a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences,” explains Marietta Carter-Narcisse, head of the makeup department on National Geographic’s bioseries “Genius: Aretha.” “I became a member in 1997 and I was in there for 20 years before another makeup artist was admitted to the Academy. We as Black artists tend to get pigeonholed. It’s challenging to fight to get out of that hole. People see your skin color and they assume that your specialty is working on Black people. It’s not a specialty, it’s who I am.” Earlier this year Mia Neal and Jamika Wilson (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”) became the first Black makeup artists to win an Oscar. Watch the exclusive video interview above.

“I was a pre med student,” confesses Carter-Narcisse while describing her path to show business. “I worked in a hospital. I hated it. I’m from Barbados and when I came to the United States my dad said, ‘hey, you want clothes, you make them.’ I just sewed everything that I wore, but I never looked at it as a profession. I was so focused on being this doctor. I finally decided to merge what was my hobbies into making a living. I graduated from college and I took a leap of faith. I met the Commodores and I moved to L.A. and I met Natalie Cole and that was my longshot moment. I said, ‘if you ever need somebody that can do hair, makeup and wardrobe, I’m available.’”

Carter-Narcisse received a call from director Anthony Hemingway and the two clicked instantly. Before she knew it she was heading up the makeup department for the NatGeo series about Aretha Franklin starring Emmy winner Cynthia Erivo. “I’ve been doing this for over 30 years,” she reveals. “We had so many people in common without even knowing each other and he was like, ‘the job is yours.’ I knew it was going to be big, but I didn’t realize how big it was going to be.”

The Hollywood veteran started out with a team of three including herself, but had to bring in additional artists as the cast continued to expand. “As they added a lot of extras and background artists then we would bring in additional artists,” she explains. “Some days up to as many as 25 or 30 artists. When you’re doing a period show it’s so different than doing something contemporary because a period show requires you to look at elements that don’t exist today. And what’s hard is that you’re doing people who actually exist. It’s not fictitious.”

One of the biggest hurdles for the makeup department was preparing for the series that spans nearly six decades. “Oh boy, was that a challenge,” she admits. “Because this was an episodic series, some days we were shooting three and four time periods simultaneously, which is not easy. The eyebrows were a huge thing and the nail shapes. Because people show up with square nails. Square nails didn’t exist. Knowing the details of each decade is critical. And the tattoos, let me tell you, everybody has tattoos today. It’s tough to cover them and make it look as realistic as possible.”

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