Black Make Up Legends – Bernadine Anderson

by michela wariebi

When we speak of the history of professional makeup artistry, we must speak of Bernadine Anderson. A legend by all definitions, she specialized in makeup for film and some of her work was essential to several of our favorite cult classic films.  She is undoubtedly a part of our history for anyone in the industry. The fight that she fought to make a space for herself, made a space for all women and specifically black women in film.

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Anderson’s career barely spanned 20 years, but she accomplished much during her time as a professional artist. She was the first woman and the first black woman to gain membership in the IATSE Local 706 Make-Up Artist & Hairstylist Guild.  With a strong desire to work in the film industry she made multiple attempts to find opportunities in that space but was repeatedly denied because of her race.  Frustrated, but determined, she filed a class action lawsuit against the union and won.  Her tenacity and insistence on being recognized set a precedent that not only had a moral obligation, but also a legal one.

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Another prestigious milestone of Anderson’s career was a 3-year makeup apprenticeship with iconic tv/film studios, Warner Bros. Interestingly enough, that was the last makeup internship ever offered by the studio. That time at WB fortified her with the skills that would lead to her being a highly sought after personal artist for celebrities working in film including icon, Cicely Tyson. Not only did she do makeup on the main talent, but she also used her skill set, which included prosthetic work, to make stunt doubles and triples look like the primary actor/actress.

That work brought Anderson’s artistry to the attention of then “it girl,” Jane Fonda. Fonda personally requested Anderson to be her artist and that connection and relationship subsequently lasted for 8 years with Anderson working as Fonda’s personal artist on 10 films throughout the early to mid 70’s.  During this time, she also slightly dabbled in makeup for blaxploitation films, “Trouble Man,” independent films centered on telling black stories, “Black Girl” and print publications.

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After Jane Fonda, Anderson began to work with Eddie Murphy as his personal makeup artist. This relationship with Eddie Murphy led to her working as a makeup artist on some of our favorite films featuring Murphy.  She was the Head Make Up Artist for “Coming to America,” the Make Up Department Supervisor for “Vampire on Brooklyn” and the Personal Artist for Eddie Murphy in Boomerang.

Even with such an important place in the history of makeup there is limited information about Anderson online. Though her career happened before the age of information, there should be more evidence of her existence in the industry. Click below to see a clip of Anderson herself chatting about her career.

Let’s hope to be inspired by the boldness that Bernadine Anderson showed in insisting that she had a right to be in spaces, where woman and black artists were told they did not belong.  We should be thankful for her commitment to the craft and we are certainly grateful for the recognition that she has gained due to her historic work.  Anderson’s original makeup kit can now be viewed at the National African American History Museum.

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