Beyoncé really knows how to get a gal in her feelings. Let’s just say, I’ve have been in a perpetual state of “OMG” since watching the mega star’s latest feat of genius, Black is King. And according to the internet, my social media feed, and everyone with a Disney+ subscription—I’m not alone.
If you’re not hip to the hype yet, the 80-minute film is an odyssey through the African diaspora as told via the music and vision of arguably the most famous (and celebrated) African-American woman in the world…Beyoncé Knowles-Carter. True to form and history, Beyoncé did not come to play…she came to slayyyyy. And that she did.
Anyone would be moved by this unique take on the story of The Lion King–but as a Black woman, I’ve gotta say, it just hits different. Back culture is fully on display and as Queen Bey proudly professes in the opening scene: “Let Black be synonymous with glory.” So, at the risk of sounding overly dramatic *but* completely real, I’ve definitely been sitting taller and straightening my figurative crown over the past several days.
And speaking of crowns, let’s talk about the HAIR—all the mesmerizing hair! Trust, the fashion and beauty were prominent characters throughout the film. So, it comes as no surprise that Beyoncé tapped one of her beloved hairstylists, Neal Farinah, to lead the charge in executing the film’s iconic looks.
Farinah has spent over 15 years working with Beyoncé and created many of her most head-turning ‘dos. And again, if you’ve watched Black is King or seen any of the visuals (that are no doubt filling your IG feed) than you’ll know that the hairstyles created for this film are the most epic of his career.
The Brooklyn-based creative didn’t argue that fact when Cosmopolitan chatted with him just days after the movie’s release. ”This is bigger than what I have ever done with her,” Farinah told Cosmo. “I always wanted to do a movie and I always wanted it to be something so powerful. I am so thankful and blessed.”
It quickly became clear that this was also too massive of a project for Farinah to accomplish alone. Therefore, he assembled a dream team of hairstylists — including Xia Charles, Nakia Rachon, Keinda Samuel, Nicole Newland, Safiya Warner, Tashana Miles, Kendra Garvey, and Kamilah Gerestant, just to name a few — to meticulously braid, sew, weave, and literally pour their hearts into the viral hair moments from the film. “This could not have been made possible without them,” Farinah explained.
Also during our conversation, Farinah revealed how Beyoncé asked him to work on the film, details around executing all those iconic hairstyles (40+ wigs in 6 days!), a few nail-bitting moments that happened on set, and so much more.
Ok, ok, I’ll stop yapping now so you can get into all the juicy details in the Q&A below!
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Cosmopolitan: Black is King is a masterpiece and I know you’re probably so over the moon to have been a part of it. But you’ve also been a part of Bey’s glam journey for over 15 years now. How are you feeling now that this project is out?
Neal: You know what? I think I’m still dreaming. I think I’m still in shock. Working on the project is one thing, but actually sitting down and watching the final result is mind-blowing. This is bigger than what I have ever done with her.
Absolutely. I was thinking, you’ve done a lot of big things with her from world tours, BeyChella, really major moments and obviously iconic looks. Is this the biggest project you’ve ever worked on with her?
I’ll put it this way, it started one night that I went to do Beyoncé’s hair– it was like around one o’clock or two o’clock in the morning. And she said to me, when I finished, she’s like, “Hey, I want to talk to you. I’ve been saving this baby for a moment now, and I want to do it.” And I was like, “What is it?” She started showing me all these picture references. And I said, “Wow, they’re beautiful. What is it all about?” And she’s like, “I want to do a movie and I want you to do this masterpiece with me.” I of course said, “Sure!” We sat there until almost four in the morning. She showed me reference after reference. I then asked her when she needed it done and she said, “Friday.” If you want to know Beyoncé—Beyoncé is an improv person. She will tell you something today and want it for tomorrow. She is very… I don’t know if there’s a word in the dictionary to describe Beyoncé. She’s just a true creative genius.
Facts! It’s really important and powerful imagery you’ve created together. It celebrates the beauty of Black hair, but it also normalizes it in a way that shows the world that our beauty is not just pageantry–this is our culture. It’s who we are.
When Beyoncé started showing me the references, I decided to go get inspired and learn as much as I could about the culture and the hair. I have learned so much. Like you said, I’ve learned that it’s not just about a hairstyle for Black people. It’s about culture – it’s a spiritual thing. These are hairstyles that have been handed down from ancestor to ancestor. I love the fact that this project really meant something. And I’m so happy to share all these amazing hairstyles that represent something so special.
I love how on your Instagram feed, you’ve been sharing the history behind some of the hairstyles.
Yes, that’s what I’m saying. Like last night I couldn’t go to sleep. I was just so carried away by all this happening right now. In my posts, people are saying, “I didn’t even know that!” “You’re teaching us.” “You’re educating us.” It’s so amazing to see that I can educate black culture on culture. You know what I’m saying? And that I was able to do that together with Beyoncé. And to work with somebody like Zerina Akers, who is an amazing star.
Let’s talk a bit about Zerina – the costume designer on “Black is King” and one of Beyoncé’s trusted stylists. How closely did you work with Zerina on this film? The hair is definitely a character in the film, but the clothing is also phenomenal.
We actually didn’t have time to discuss clothing and what was going on. But I’m telling you when I got on set and I saw the clothes … oh my God! I mean Zerina didn’t come to play. She came to work. She came to murder. She came to slaughter. Unbelievable fashion.
Wow! I’m so surprised that you were able to create the hairstyles without seeing the clothing beforehand. They worked perfectly together! Tell me about the team of hairstylists you assembled. How did you come up with your dream team?
Well, I reached out to my manager, who I love and trust so much. I told her to go on social media and find the most phenomenal black hairstylists. Send them my way and send them to my salon in the morning–and tell them to come ready to work. I’m not going to lie, like I said, I spoke to Beyoncé Tuesday night and I had all the hairstylists at my salon on Wednesday—because she wanted this done by Friday! I was blown away. There were like 10 to 12 amazing hairstylists at my doorstep and they were ready to work. You would swear that they had worked together before because everyone was jumping in to help like, “Let me do this. Let me finish up this. You start that.”
Neal, wait, hold on. So, you’re telling me that all of these major wigs were done in a matter of days? Not weeks or months?
Yeah! We did it all in 6 days.
Yes, we had to get it done. We would start at like nine o’clock in the morning and would go to about one or two o’clock in the morning. There might be three people working on one look, two people working on another, and one person going to get stuff if we needed it. By Friday, I asked Beyoncé if I could have an extra couple more days. She said yes and that she’ll figure it out when she gets on the set the first few days. And it worked out as planned. By the time I got on set we had everything.
How many wigs did you and the team actually create?
I would say about 40-something. I didn’t count but I know there were a lot!
Oh my God. That’s insane.
Yeah. The girls really came through. And one of the things that I’m so proud of is that the ancestors have given me so many great opportunities to do amazing things. And I felt this was the time for me to share the piece of the pie with other Black hairstylists who don’t have this platform to show their creativity and their work. So, I felt this was the moment for me to share this with them and they were more than happy to be there. If I were to do it again, I would have the same team. They were phenomenal. Everybody came out and everybody shined.
Y’all did that! The piece with the horns was one of my favorites. And that 30-foot long braided wig was just wow!
Bey had to go up on this super tall ladder with that wig. It was so heavy. I mean heavy! I was so scared going up this ladder with her because I couldn’t drop the weight–it could have messed her neck up, and I could have hurt her. It was unbelievable. But Beyoncé is a trooper–even though she knows it’s risky, she’ll still just do it. When she wants something done, she goes for it without any kind of fear. And she does not put fear into anyone. She supports you. And I think that’s what makes everybody around her work so hard.
Absolutely. Speaking of crazy moments, were there any others on set?
Yeah. Let me tell you what happened. At the time of creating all these major wigs I wasn’t thinking that Beyoncé has got to actually perform – I mean really perform in them. And in my head, I forgot all about that. For instance, that wig with the horns was heavy. But I went on the set and I just figured it out. I was determined to make it work. Bey said to me, “How am I going to perform with this?” And I said, “I will take care of it.” She put it on, we made it work, and it’s one of the most amazing pieces
It’s truly iconic. Do you personally have a favorite hairstyle from the film?
I watched it like four times, and every hairstyle came from the heart and every hairstyle played an amazing role. So, when I watched I couldn’t say any were my favorite. What I can say is that there was a lot of love and passion that went behind all of the hairstyles. I love them all!
I’m sure it’s hard to pick just one. Last question, as a Trinidadian man, what does this mean to you to be able to leave this type of legacy with your leadership and artistry?
To be honest, I just feel like a young Black-Indian boy from Trinidad–from the Caribbean. I come from diversity. And even being mixed race, I do understand Blackness. Coming from Trinidad and Tobago, this is beyond what I could have ever dreamed of. I just want every Black woman to feel free and informed about their Black beauty. I want them to explore and not think about what someone thinks about your complexity, skin, or how you look with your hair. Just live your best life and to hell with the others!
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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