Beyoncé’s “Black Is King” Makeup Looks Were a Love Letter to Black Beauty

By | August 10, 2020

Black is King couldn’t have come at a better time. Not that Beyoncé would ever adhere to our mere mortal timelines, but in a summer marked by death and protests, it was beyond refreshing to see Blackness as joyful and beautiful, something that is always worth celebrating, even if it isn’t February. Beyoncé gave us a love letter to the African diaspora, a visual feast for the eyes whose simple mission was to elevate Black beauty. And let me tell you—she did that.

black is king


And don’t even get me started on the makeup looks—chill, I won’t be offended if you thought Black is King was all about the hair. I mean, how could you not? From the floor-length box braids to the bantu knots to the over-the-top braided crowns—every single hair look was eye-catching and head-turning.

But as a makeup girl, I’m always drawn to how that specific medium fits into the overall puzzle. I saw looks that I instantly added to a mental mood board. There was endless inspo for the no-makeup makeup trend, and while it’s been all over our feeds for years now, there wasn’t anything tired or boring about the filled-in brows, sheer skin, gilded lids, and glossy lips that made up a majority of the film.

There were also looks that fell on the opposite end of the spectrum—like the lipstick colors. Think: black, teal, and royal blue lipstick. These are the same colors that myself, and other little Black girls, were told were off-limits to us, that they would clash with our skin tones. But Beyoncé wears the colors unapologetically…and she looks really damn good.

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If the message behind the many hair looks in Black is King is to tell Black women that they should feel free to explore different styles, then the same can be said of the makeup. Beyoncé’s telling us to go ahead and swipe on the blue lipstick, pack on the glitter eyeshadow, or layer on some highlighter for an out-of-this-world glow. Basically, do whatever the fuck you want and forget the haters. Your beauty will shine through regardless.

Rokael Lizama and Francesa Tolot have been working with Beyoncé for years (five and fifteen, respectively), and they were two of the makeup artists who worked to create the looks that are currently all over your IG feed, and I was #blessed enough to chat with both of them over the phone about all of the iconic looks in the film.

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African art was a key reference for the looks

Francesa Tolot: I’ve always been fascinated with African art and the art of makeup, so for me, it was very exciting. My references, in addition to what Beyoncé and her team gave me, came from an art collection that I’ve been building forever. I was inspired by the heritage and the history of African art, but I also wanted to transform it and make it more contemporary and modern for the film.

Rokael Lizama: There were a lot of art references that we looked at, that we were sent, so I kind of just started to be inspired by that. I just wanted to make sure that I was aligned with what the project was going to be, so I didn’t want to pull too much on my own. I kind of just went with what was given to me. But I was also very inspired in the moment, once I saw the clothes and the hair, it kind of just flowed from there.

The goal was to execute Beyonce’s vision

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FT: Why I love working with Beyoncé is that the vision is all in her mind. We also have a pretty great connection—we don’t really need to have an hour meeting to come up with the look for a picture. We kind of think alike, and she’s very good at expressing her visual goals to me. She knows what she wants, and it’s just a matter of having a connection and an understanding and being able to interpret her ideas and her process of thinking.

RL: Beyoncé already knew what she wanted to do, she had her vision, and I just followed along. It was more whatever she was bringing us as far as references, she wanted to execute, and then we just took it from there.

They worked closely with the hair stylists to make sure everything was complementary

FT: It all kind of evolved naturally. Sometimes, we decided to do the makeup first, so the hair would be consequential, or the clothes. And sometimes, the clothes were first or the hair piece was already made, so everything else adapted to that. I think it’s important to adapt your craft—sometimes you can plan things ahead of time, but it might not work when it comes to the actual execution. It’s very important that the team is close and friendly and willing to collaborate in a way where you can improv and make quick changes.

RL: I always tend to let the hair start first—I never want to overshadow anything, I always want to be complementary to whatever is going on. With this project, the hair was very important because there were a lot of different looks that we wanted to do. I wanted to make sure that the hair was the star of the show, and I didn’t want the makeup to take away from that. [The hair] was also very intricate to do, so time-wise, when we were working, I wanted to make sure that they had time and space to do what they needed to do.

Makeup trends didn’t play a large role at all

FT: Trends had nothing to do with the makeup looks, and they have nothing to do with me when it comes to doing my job. I never follow the trend, unless I think that trend is serving the purpose of my makeup at that moment. But trends really are the farthest thing from my way of thinking about doing makeup.

On their favorite makeup looks

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FT: I do love the body makeup we did, the green body makeup. I also love the smokey eye when she was walking down the river. I don’t know, because the thing is, she’s so gorgeous that she looks great with a super natural look or with incredibly over the top makeup. On top of that, every time we do something, there’s so much love and passion, so every look becomes special and beautiful.

RL: The body paint, for sure. I loved it because it was challenging and I had never really done body paint before, and I know Beyoncé was challenging me as an artist to do that. Honestly, too, I really loved some of the neutral looks that were just super clean and beautiful, and, believe it or not, they’re really hard to do.

Blue Ivy is a beauty queen, just like her mom

RL: I did a lip on Blue for “Brown Skin Girl.” I love Blue, and Blue loves makeup. She’s very girly and fun, and she already appreciates the art behind makeup. We weren’t trying to give her a full-on look or anything, we were just having fun. She had some glitter on her eyes and some sparkles, so that was really fun for her.

The go-to products were all about enhancing Beyonce’s natural beauty

RL: I used a lot of glow—I wanted to make sure that the skin was very dewy and I wanted to enhance the buttery-ness of her skin because Beyoncé has amazing skin, so I didn’t go too matte or too much contour. I used Glow Drops from Iconic London and I mixed them with a little bit of oil to sheer them out a little…so that they look a little more like skin. I also used some lashes that I designed for her when we were on tour. I always try to go for something natural that still looks real, and especially when you’re doing projects like this, especially when it’s a beauty close up, you don’t want it to look very lash-y, or like “oh, it looks like there’s a lash on her.”

The makeup was important to the main message of the film—to elevate Black beauty

RL: I just wanted to represent her beauty. She’s of African descent and I wanted to make sure that her beauty was relayed when you saw the visuals. That was my job—to make sure that the theme was represented well and that it was well-done. Sometimes makeup artists in this industry don’t know how to work with deeper skin tones, so you’ll see a project and think they made her look too light or they made her look like this. I just wanted to make sure that she looked the best that she could look for whatever visual we were working on. I wanted to emphasize her descent, her beauty, and how proud she was of all of it.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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