There’s a problem with the wigs in ‘House Of The Dragon’
It’s a shame then that the creative team didn’t put more money into the wigs sported by the biracial members of the case, says Hanna Flint
Saturday 8 October 2022 By Hanna Flint
When the casting of House of the Dragon saw the introduction of Steve Toussaint as Lord Corlys Velaryon, a key Westerosi player, it was a moment of celebration. Especially given the iffy racial politics of Game Of Thrones, which mainly positioned Black actors and people of colour as either barbarians, slaves or exotic libertines. Here we have a now-Black character with a respectable history in this fictional world, whose gallantry has helped his House become the wealthiest in the land. This casting really flipped the bird at racist naysayers who have selective gripes with the fantasy genre. As Toussaint said to me recently in an interview for Men’s Health: ‘They are happy with a dragon flying. They’re happy with white hair and violet-coloured eyes, but a rich Black guy? That’s beyond the pale.’
It’s a shame then that the creative team didn’t put more money into the wigs sported by the biracial members of this family. While most members of House Velaryon no longer share skin tones with their literary counterparts, the trademark icy hair colour has remained intact. Similar to the Targaryens’ platinum locks, the Black/ biracial men of the household wear white dreadlocks, half up, while the women have been saddled with far frizzier hairpieces.
It started with the youngest version of Lady Laena (Nova Foueillis-Mosé) in the first episodes, whose bushy wig lacks any definition or styling befitting a wealthy Lord’s daughter. Compare Laena’s mop to those rocked by her white cousin Rhaenyra Targaryen (Milly Alcock) and her best mate Alicent Hightower (Emily Carey) and the difference is staggering. These white girls get several intricate designs, from braids to sleek waves, and Laena can’t even get a box braid? Sadly, the care put into each character’s looks barely changes as time shifts and the young actors are replaced with older ones.
Seven episodes in and we’ve now been introduced to the mixed daughters of Laena (Nanna Blondell) and Daemon (Matt Smith) and I have to wonder if anyone in the hair department has ever seen Afro hair before. The curled shape and texture of these Velaryon women look plastic, matted or overwhelmingly unnatural, and this isn’t because the colour is white. There are plenty of Black and biracial women whose hair looks devastatingly good when coloured bleached blonde or other light hues, like Beyoncé, Leona Lewis or model Karen Williams.
One of the frequent complaints I hear from actors of colour, especially Black, is the negligence of film and TV hair and make-up teams when it comes to styling. Only in recent years have producers begun to secure stylists who can work with Black hair after decades of forcing these actors to either do it themselves, pay for a specialist hairdresser or have their locks wrecked by unqualified coiffeurs.
You’d think after boasting about its diversity that the HBO prequel series would make the effort behind the scenes to ensure the aesthetic equality of each cast member. But according to my friend, author and actor Obioma Ugoala, progress is still slow. ‘There’s been a delayed effect in sourcing good wigs and getting good screen wigs made,’ he told me. ‘So, while they’re (belatedly) training up hair and make-up teams to cater to Afro hair, getting tailormade wigmakers hasn’t been top of some producers’ priority list.’
If House Of The Dragon gets a second series, they’d better put some money where the Black wigs are.
Is The Woman King accurate enough?
Speaking of Black ‘dos, there are some rather excellent lewks sported in Gina Prince-Bythewood’s The Woman King. It’s a real celebration of the contributions Black women have made in history; the movie centres on an all-female warrior militia led by Viola Davis’s formidable general Nanisca tasked with protecting their West African kingdom of Dahomey. They even have a scene where Lashana Lynch’s veteran Izogie braids the hair of rookie Nawi (Thuso Mbedu) in a lovely moment of sisterly bonding.
However, there’s been criticism over the historical accuracy of the kingdom’s involvement in the slave trade. Some have taken to social media to argue the film fails to exhibit the role Dahomey played in delivering people from rival African tribes to European slavers during the 1820s period in which it is set. Yet the movie I saw has the subject front and centre in the conflict; it flows in parallel to the story of Nanisca’s emotional journey as she gains more influence while being forced to confront past trauma.
Sure, the writers may have condensed history to give it a more uplifting Hollywood ending and dig into the warriors’ motivations, but this is not a documentary – it’s a fictionalised epic, and there’s only so much you can get into two hours without losing entertainment value. The fundamental truth of Dahomey’s long role in the slave trade is presented, and nothing else in the movie is clouding that – but if you want to take a knock at movies that really sanitise history, let me introduce to white cinema. There’s more than enough culprits there – here’s looking at you, Braveheart.