Meet the Woman Behind the Makeup in Tyler Perry & Spike Lee Movies
All month long, Galore is celebrating what it means to be independent. Click here for more.
Throughout her 20 plus years in the industry, makeup artist Anita Gibson has become one of the top film makeup artists in the industry without any traditional makeup schooling. Directors like Spike Lee and Tyler Perry rely on her expertise to make their stars look incredible on screen. She just received an award at the 2016 New York Women in Film & Television’s Designing Women Awards, and now she’s sharing advice with us on how she managed to work her way up in the film industry and how you can too. Read her story, as told to Kayla Jackson, to see how she’s a legend in her own unique way:
When I first came to New York I was originally interested in becoming a fashion designer. I had always drawn a lot and considered myself an artist but I wasn’t interested in doing makeup for a living. I got into makeup more organically, as opposed to actually pursuing it. I needed to make an income while living in the city and so, like many others, I went to work for Estee Lauder and later YSL. Back then doing makeup at a counter was way different than it is now, I was using cotton balls and Q-tips on customers! But using those basic tools really improved my skills.
I got my first gig in the film industry by accident from a friend who needed me to fill in for her on a short HBO film. From that opportunity I was able to meet Toy Russell, who really believed in me and was able to help me evolve my career into what it is today.
I have since been able to work for amazing directors like Spike Lee, Tyler Perry, Gina Prince-Blythewood and many more. I feel forever indebted to Spike Lee. He truly believed in me and expected so much from me. He had such a huge part in integrating the entire film industry. Back when I first started working there were very few jobs for people of color in film. The few opportunities that were available were mainly onscreen. Spike helped to open doors for black professionals to develop careers from working behind the scenes as well as on screen. He truly gave me a body of work to allow me to then go and get other jobs because of the reputation he carried in the entertainment world.
Tyler Perry, like Spike Lee, was a major game changer in film. Working on “For Colored Girls” with him was a different experience because I was used to working on Madea films. I had to help him step out from typical Tyler Perry because he wanted the characters in that film to feel very real. Although he and Spike are different in many ways, I feel blessed to have been able to work for such major game changers in film. Because of them, people of color can now have high careers behind the scenes.
Working for Gina Prince-Blythewood on “Love & Basketball” and “Beyond the Lights” was another great experience. Working for her helped me to learn when its necessary to be great because not every project requires a lot of makeup. Love & Basketball was Sanaa Lathan’s breakout film performance and as a result she wanted to get dolled up and look as good as possible — but her character didn’t call for a lot of glam. She was playing a female basketball star, so I had to create a look that was more natural in order to fit the character.
Nowadays I mostly work in television for the show “Power,” which has a completely different dynamic than film. Television has become more exciting and forward moving because it’s no longer just network, which was previously limiting to people of color. Television series move at a faster pace and directors come and go a lot more often than in film production.
If I were to give advice to any aspiring makeup artists, I would tell them to be really good at what you do and figure out exactly what you want to do. In film there are different makeup artists. There are people who do really good makeup and others who do specialty makeup and help with effects. Once you decide what you want to do allow yourself to get really good at doing it.
I worked on women every day in order to get my start. It’s important to diversify yourself by practicing on all kinds of people. It’s one thing to know how to do makeup really well on yourself. It is something different to know how to make other people look good. Also participate and connect with industry people as much as you can. It is important to find a mentor, someone who can take you under their wing and help you. In a lot of situations relationships can be more important than your talent itself. Finally, realize that getting successful is a process, things take time and patience.