Araxi Lindsey is an Emmy-winning hairstylist whose been working in the film and TV industry for over two decades. In addition to being a salon owner, Lindsey served as the hair department head for ABC’s Black-ish from Seasons 1-6 and won an Emmy for Outstanding Contemporary Hairstyling for her work on the series. The win made her the first person ever to win an Emmy for the hit sitcom.
The celebrity hairstylist has worked on some of Hollywood’s most iconic tresses, including as the personal hairstylist of Oscar-winning actress Regina King and previously Tracee Ellis Ross and Jada Pinkett Smith.
MADAMENOIRE chatted with Lindsey about being the hair design lead on the set of Netflix’s recently released Western film The Harder They Fall — which stars King, Idris Elba, Zazie Beetz, Jonathan Majors, Laz Alonso — and how her work created the unique and multicultural-inspired hairstyles in the Oscar-buzz worthy hit.
MADAMENOIRE: What was it like working with Regina King on the set of The Harder They Fall? How long have you two known each other?
Araxi Lindsey: This was actually our first time working together. It was really easy to collaborate and share vibes with her.
I’ve known Regina King for a while — since she was on Southland. That was one of the first TV shows I worked on after being Jada Pinkett Smith’s personal hairstylist for ten years. Regina and I had mutual friends and I styled her son’s hair at my salon a couple of times so there was a sense of familiarity.
She would always call me while I was working on Black-ish and she’d check in with me like, “Okay Araxi, can you work with me on this project?”
And I’d be like, “No I’m doing Black-Ish, I’m doing Black-ish.”
So when I got the call for The Harder They Fall, I was definitely still doing Black-ish [laughs]. The film’s script was amazing when I read it and I just got butterflies from it. Plus, I saw James Lassiter, who’s Will Smith’s right man, was one of the executive producers and I was like [gasps]: “He’s like a big brother to me!”
Regina had called me at least 12 times to come work on other gigs and I never could, so I couldn’t say no when this came up.
MN: I’m really interested to hear more about what your research process was like when you were putting together the hairstyles for The Harder They Fall. Since it’s a Western with Black actors in it — something viewers don’t get to see on-screen that often — where’d you start and how did you garner inspiration?
Lindsey: After reading the script, I went through a few of the books I have at home and went to the good ole’ internet and started looking up images and things that were happening when the movie took place, the late 1800s to the early 1900s.
When you look up people of African descent from that time, you really can’t see much. You’ll see people in scarves or hats but there wasn’t much to celebrate when it came to the research I was finding initially. So then, I had to look at things on a grander scale. I researched Africa in the late 1800s and early 1900s. I looked up European culture and I researched Latin cultures.
Simply because Africans were dropped off all over the world during the slave trade, we have influences in our culture when it comes to our hair. It’s a fact that’s overlooked too often.
I just made up my own hodgepodge of what people of African descent with afro-textured hair would look like at the end of the Victorian Age and going into the Edwardian hairstyles of that time. I just wanted to pay homage to Native Americans, our African culture, European culture and just put together what I saw fit for the script.
From a logistical standpoint, people back then didn’t use a lot of products and their hair wasn’t weighted down with a bunch of stuff. Instead, they used a lot of apothecaries, herbal and natural things — things that they would find along the way to do their hair. For example, most women would put jewels in their hair to soften up their appearance, just as one would use perfume to separate themselves from the men.
I did my homework — just pretending I lived in that era and thinking about what my eyes would have picked up on during that time.
MN: So as you developed your creative process and later executed the hairstyles that were designed, did your visions always pan out the way you expected?
Lindsey: You know, I had a lot of collaboration. I do that with every project I work on.
I love to include the writers because it’s their dream we’re bringing to life. I like working with the director because they’re the person who has to visualize and look at the hairstyles so the looks come to life for viewers later on. I also like to speak with the actors I’m working with because they have to trust what they look like. They can’t see themselves when they’re acting, so I want to be mindful of how they see their character.
After all that, that’s when I add in my expertise.
I did a lot of work with Jaymes Samuel on They Harder They Fall, being that he’s the writer and the director of the film. We vibed instantly on what we saw fit for the looks — allowing natural hair to be showcased on a huge platform.
Having natural and afro-textured hair normalized in an Oscar-buzz worthy platform is pretty huge. We didn’t want to make it seem glitzy and glamourous and shiny. We wanted it to look real.
MN: I love that you touched on the emphasis on natural hair in the film, especially since The Harder They Fall is an “Oscar-buzzworthy” film, as you mentioned. Could you share more about the impact you’re hoping the hairstyling in the film will have in the Hollywood film industry overall?
Lindsey: Oh man — it’s something that I pray on often. I pray that we as a culture stop shying away from our natural textures and believing that other hair textures are better than what we’re born with, especially when there are people who want what we have.
I hope that the world can say, “You know what, natural hair is great.” I definitely don’t want our natural beauty hidden on the big screen.
There are so many impressionable young people out there. If you always see leading Black actresses in wigs or hair textures unlike their own, we’re selling the wrong message.
I hope that we’re able to showcase ourselves and our natural beauty — whatever that may be for us — outside of slave narratives and stories where Black characters aren’t empowered. We should have our natural hair represented in stories that uplift us and those that depict our current and authentic lives. Natural hair doesn’t have to be attached to anything negative or depressing.
I hope this movie opens the door for the celebration of natural hair normalcy in Hollywood.
MN: As we wrap up — I’d love to hear how working through the pandemic on The Harder They Fall set was for you.
How was that experience?
Lindsey: Something a lot of people don’t know is that we were supposed to start filming The Harder They Fall in March 2020 and be on set till May that year. At that time, we were all prepping and everyone was getting ready to work.
The day before we were supposed to start filming, it went public that Idris got COVID and we learned the virus was spreading its way through America. Everything in preparation for the film had to be shut down.
They had us quartine for around two or three weeks before they finally told us we had to go back home. I had to do a twelve-hour drive from Sante Fe back home to LA.
I’d never been off work for that amount of time in my life. To wake with the sun, see my garden, go to bed with the moon, all those things… when we went back to set in August it was a totally different world from what we had pre-COVID. There were all these new rules.
On top of the demand of the COVID procedures and getting people in and out of our chairs, we had less time to actually get hair done. Not to mention that we got tested for COVID every day in the beginning, PCR and rapid tests.
We were masked up and the actors were as well. It was a challenge, especially for the makeup department. The masks were messing up all my edges [laughs]! I had to keep going in there and making sure the edges looked neat. It was just a lot of cautious repetitiveness.
COVID tried to take away the “family aspect” of what you would normally have on a set when you’re working with people so closely. It also brought us together since The Harder They Fall was the first American project for Netflix to go out and experience working during this time.
All I can say is kudos to my hair team. Many of them didn’t have to come back to set, but they trusted my leadership and wanted to be a part of something big. One of my barbers drove from Brooklyn to LA with his family and a newborn. We put in so much work during the job and during this time. It was just — it was a lot more than just the hair or just another movie. It was life-changing for a lot of us. We understood the assignment and executed it during COVID so… it was heavy but we did it. I’m so happy we did it and my team stuck it out with me.