You may know Andrea Lewis as the youthful beauty Hazel Aden in Degrassi: The Next Generation or Carla from Disney Channel’s Cadet Kelly, but the actress and filmmaker’s first beauty memory was when she was a pre-teen cast as young Natalie Cole in Livin’ for Love: The Natalie Cole Story. While Lewis was accustomed to either her mother or herself doing her own hair, the then-13-year-old actress was introduced to a hairstylist for the first time while on set.
“I remember it was a white hair stylist and he was like, ‘I’ve got this gel, I’ve got that gel, I got this gel,’ and he was trying his best,” Lewis recounted. “These were products I hadn’t necessarily seen before. I didn’t think that Black hair was like a one-phrase catch-all type of thing that you could just use one type of gel and it just does everybody’s hair.”
From then on, young Lewis became observant of the representation and visibility of Black girls in the makeup and styling chair from the amount of heat applied to her tresses to the blush they used on her skin. Admiring the simplicity and effortless beauty of her mother and grandmother, who would occasionally use “a red lipstick here or a pink lipstick there,” the actress wanted to continue to highlight the multi hyphenation of beauty across the board of Black women of different shades ranges and hues.
“When I was a teenager, I paid so much attention to any brown face I saw on television, whether it was Beyonce, Tia and Tamera, or Naomi Campbell. I always was like, ‘How can I look like that?,’ whatever it was. If their skin was super shiny, if they just look glossy and beautiful, I’m like, ‘How can I look like that?’ Those are key beauty moments when I think about how beauty was introduced to me.”
This time around, Lewis is taking on the media industry from the director’s chair and reclaiming the narrative of Black women in the world of beauty. Cue up The Black Beauty Effect — a 3-part docuseries with an hour-long episode each that dissects the evolution, revolution, and disruption of the beauty industry. Executive produced by Kahlana Barfield-Brown, Jackie Aina, Keesha Boyd, and Emmy nominee CJ Faison, the series focuses on three key aspects of beauty – makeup, hair, and skin – as it features candid conversations and expertise from beauty editors, celebrity makeup artists, and brand executives about the industry’s perception of beauty.
We caught up with Lewis to discuss the inspiration behind The Black Beauty Effect, the importance of uplifting Black editors and influencers, and how being a child actress brought her behind the scenes. Read the full interview below.
HB: What was the initial inspiration behind The Black Beauty Effect?
Andrea Lewis: I think my career has brought me to probably the most unique space that allowed me to be the kind of person to tell this story, to even be interested in this story. Because I grew up on television, I’ve been a makeup chair since I was a little girl. I have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of the makeup hair room in terms of working with people who know your skin, working with people who don’t, working with people who know your hair, and working with people who do not. I’ve seen it all. I have figured out all the ways to protect myself in terms of bringing my set bag, and I’m having my hair already prepared.
At the same time, I too was just a regular young girl observing social media, observing popular media with magazines and television, really consuming this stuff, and searching for women that I thought were representative of me, to look for inspiration to be like, ‘Oh, I can look like this person.’ I never felt like there was anything that really celebrated us or really showed that part of the story. Yes, beauty is this really popular thing, but nobody’s talking about the Black dollar and how powerful we are, the Black consumer. Nobody’s talking about all these makeup artists that inspire this look, they’re not giving us the credit.
I had this in my head for years. I’m in this specific seat as a person who gets to be in front of the camera, behind the camera, on the digital landscape – I get to see it all. I know that Black beauty is the inspiration. I know that we are the dominant force, but I’m not seeing anybody really highlight that end of our story. When I would see stories about Black beauty, it was more so from the perspective of ‘we’ve been treated like we’re ugly, and nobody likes this, and we’re not the beauty standard.’ Yes, there are negative parts to our story, but that’s not the end of it. That is not all of our stories. What I love about The Black Beauty Effect is that that’s what we focused on: who were the game changers? Who were the people making a difference despite what popular media was trying to do or despite these places that maybe we didn’t necessarily fit in but we were figuring it out? That is just a dream come true for me.
HB: How did you go about selecting the cast of Black women who you wanted to highlight and feature in The Black Beauty Effect?
AL: It was such an interesting process because, again, I’m a fan of Black Beauty, I’m a fan of space. I’ve been following and observing makeup artists [and] Black Beauty editors for years. I love to see their life. I knew that when we were starting that there were certain key players that you needed to have involved in this project to really make sure that it told the right story. Jackie Aina was the first person that I had approached to say, ‘Hey, I’m doing this thing, would you be interested?,’ and she was like, ‘Yeah, girl, tell me more. What is this?’ I was so pleased and impressed because if you are a Black girl that’s online paying attention to anything social media-wise with beauty, Jackie Aina is that girl. She is the one, she is the info for all the Black beauty influencers. For her to give me that stamp of approval right away was amazing.
Kahlana Barfield-Brown, who is also one of our EPs, is a Black beauty editor that everybody knows in the space that has done such amazing work. She has all of the relationships [and] people respect Kahlana in such a beautiful way. She says this about herself, but I would also say it about her – she is a Black girl’s Black girl. She really supports Black women as much as possible. You saw that with even how she came on board within our project, and her and I having conversations about Elaine Welteroth, Mikki Taylor, Julee Wilson. These were names I already knew we needed and had written down and Kahlana came and confirmed it for me. It moved really quickly, and we got such incredible talent attached: Mikki Taylor, Lisa Price, Desiree Rogers, Maya Allen. I’ve been very appreciative of our talent overall.
HB: What were some of your personal takeaways from The Black Beauty Effect?
AL: I always knew that we belonged in these spaces and that we deserve this kind of story. To see our talent sit down in the chair and be so excited to tell us a story about their lives because people don’t often ask them about these parts of their careers. Amber Riley even said that to me right away and she was just honored to be able to speak about it. Mikki Taylor probably said the thing that really resonated with me the most. She was like, ‘We’ve never been trying to assimilate Black people, Black women. We’ve always just tried to look like ourselves.’ When it comes to the beauty space, especially the Black beauty space, oftentimes we’re told that we have to assimilate or people try to act like we want to as if white beauty is the thing that we’re all trying to reach for and I’ve never felt like that.
I always just wanted to look like myself. The only people that ever inspired me were other Black women. To hear Mikki say that in our interview, that this is something she knows and has always known, I was like, ‘That’s the language. Those are the words that I needed and I didn’t have, that’s the feeling that I’ve always had.’ I had a very confirming experience during our filming. It was like the whole thing really confirmed for me just how important, not only Black stories are, but especially Black women’s stories told by Black women. This just really confirms my place as a filmmaker, as a creative.
HB: How has your experience on-camera afforded you the opportunity to have a different lens while working behind the camera?
AL: I now think I’ve truly become a producer-actor. I find myself the whole time, even when I’m on camera, I’m listening as if I’m a producer. The whole time I’m trying to be one step ahead. I wish I could relax, [but] I just can’t. I find that when I’m on set, I have a lot of gratitude and I try my best to think more about the overall story and not just my position in things. I think that’s just my producer brain because I’ve been on the other end of things and know all the moving parts and how hard it can be and just all the things that you’ve got to do. Now that I get to be going back and forth, I find that it’s made me a better artist. I’m grateful that I’ve been allotted these opportunities and that I’ve been able to grow in this process, not only as a producer but also just in general as an entertainer.
It’s like a full-circle diagram for me. All of these things needed to happen for us to get where we are right now. With being able to present The Black Beauty Effect, we needed Black beauty editors. We needed the Black celebrity makeup artists who were the only Black face in the room and behind the scenes doing what they were doing. We needed Black influencers. We needed all of these things to do this full circle in order for us to get to this place now where we can all really recognize Black beauty on a higher level, where we can aspire to look like ourselves. It’s important to note the history, the present moment, and where we’re going. All of these things matter. It wasn’t one over the other. It’s not just the influencer, it’s not just the editor, it’s not just the makeup artist. They all had to work together.
HB: When you hear the term “Black is beautiful,” how has the interpretation evolved over the years?
AL: I think of self-love immediately. Black is beautiful to me is the diversity of blackness. More than anything, that saying is really about accepting ourselves fully. There’s been so much that we’ve had to unlearn, unpack as Black people because Eurocentric beauty standards have been put onto us so intensely that for some people. Even today in 2022, it is challenging for them to say Black is beautiful. It is challenging for them to know what they really mean when they say that, to accept their hair the way it is, shrinkage and all, frizz and all to really be like, I love myself fully, I like my complexion, I like all the things, I like my features.
To me, Black is beautiful [is] being able to say that very confidently. I think it’s evolved over the years because when you really started with that, it was more so the Civil Rights era, the ’60s you started. That was when Black power movement started to happen, and it was associated with Afros and that revolution. When we say Black is beautiful, I think we really mean the diversity of blackness. I think we want to see multiple forms of blackness. We want to see every complexion, every hair type, and we want to celebrate them all equally. There’s no longer this like, ‘That’s good hair, or that’s the right complexion.’ All of our hair is good hair. All of our complexions are beautiful. We’re not trying to be in this group or that group. We want all of it to really mean what we say.
Watch the trailer, below:
The Black Beauty Effect premiered November 25, 2022 on Comcast Black Experience on Xfinity.