August 16, 2012

By Pat Hendricks Munson

Sentinel Contributing Writer


Her name may not be recognizable to the general public but millions have seen her handiwork on the faces of some of Hollywood’s biggest and brightest stars.  She is called upon time after time to deliver just the right look for actors and actresses going before the cameras to portray characters of every era, age and ethnicity.

She is none other than Marietta Carter-Narcisse a makeup artist extraordinaire, and one of only two members of color in the makeup and hairstylist branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences; a voting member.  The artist has worked in the industry for years now adding esthetic credence to actors’ performances in highly acclaimed and recognizable movies as well as period pieces such as the upcoming “Sparkle,” about a 1960s up and coming singer staring American Idol winner Jordin Sparks and the late multi-Grammy winning Whitney Houston. 

Carter-Narcisse was not expecting to work on this film when out of the blue she received a last-minute call requesting her services on the movie set in Detroit.  The always professional makeup expert had less than a day to prepare and pack for the trip.

“I received the call after 12 in the afternoon on a Monday and by eight in the morning on Tuesday I was on a flight to Detroit,” said Carter-Narcisse, who went straight from the plane to the set.  The beauty pro artist, teacher and businesswoman principally worked her magic on Sparks but also had the opportunity to makeup Houston on several occasions during filming. 

Working 80 plus hours per week for one month straight was grueling to say the least.   However, viewing trailers and looking at pictures of the stars in the movie all the hard work is paying off.  Sparks and Houston look very authentic in their 1960s era makeup and clothing and Carter-Narcisse is proud of the work she’s done and the film itself.  With Sparks being in almost every scene Narcisse had her work cut out for her and she is pleased with the results.   

“I feel real good about how Jordin looks.  I am very, very happy.  It could have been a huge disaster not having time to prepare as I usually would.   When doing these films time is needed to research the period in order to manipulate authentic imagery.  You have to know the period to manipulate it.  I brought my research to the project.  I wanted to give that retro chic look of the 60s.” 

Carter-Narcisse gives lots of credit to Houston for making her feel comfortable and understanding the last minute arrangement of her stepping into a project already in progress.  She remembers Houston being very warm, supportive and understanding and even though they had never met they realized they had many friends in common.

“Whitney was great.  She made me feel very comfortable.  We talked a lot about our kids, raising children in this industry, being there for them and trying not to miss out on that part of family life while meeting the demands of the industry” said Carter-Narcisse, a wife and mother of a 17-year-old son.  That was one of their last conversations before shooting ended in November 2011 and the announcement of Houston’s untimely death in February this year.  The movie opens Friday, August 17.

Her portfolio covers a who’s who in the film industry including top stars such as Samuel L. Jackson, Angela Bassett, Whoopi Goldberg, Cindy Crawford and Robert Deniro.

She has either worked as the makeup artist, designer or supervisor on “Beverly Hills Cop II,” “Malcolm X”, “A Time to Kill,” “The Long Kiss Goodnight,” “ Ghost,” “The Mighty Quinn,” “Eve’s Bayou,” “The Negotiator,” “Baby Boy,” on television commercials, music videos and more.

Carter Narcisse started out as a seamstress.  A native of Barbados she moved to New York in 1971 with her parents and four brothers. Back in the early days her dad, who recently passed away after 61 years of marriage to her mother, could not afford to buy clothes for his children. 

“My dad said ‘if you want clothes, make them.’  Between the ages of 12-24 years old I made everything I ever wore except underwear.  I would look at pictures in a magazine and tell my friends ‘I’m going to wear that tomorrow.’  I made a new outfit every night and I never wore an outfit twice.” 

The young seamstress started sewing clothes for friends in her neighborhood and it wasn’t long before her talent was recognized.  A secretary at her junior high school, also a native of Barbados, noticed she had style and eventually started an after school program for girls teaching them about fashion and how to properly apply makeup.  By the time she was 16 she had a steady flow of customers for her home-made clothes.

“I didn’t know I was a business person.  I was totally passionate about it.  It was so much fun doing it.  It was great,” Carter-Narcisse remembered.  After high school the budding entrepreneur attended Long Island University on a full scholarship as a pre-med major while going to work at a hospital “dressed to kill” in her self-made designs.  After graduating from LIU she worked for two years as an insurance underwriter while on a waiting list to med school.

Although she admits to hating that job she continued to go to work in perfect makeup, dress and shoes.  One day her boss told her “you don’t belong here.”  She resigned and enrolled into beauty school, eventually getting a cosmetology license.  With that she left New York and moved to Los Angeles, via Europe.  That’s where her youngest brother was on the road as a valet for the Commodores, repairing their clothes and other odd jobs.  At that her young brother didn’t really know who they were.  However, she did, and being the innate business woman she is “I hitched myself to him” and the rest is history.  Through him and the Commodores she met Natalie Cole.

“It was one of those moments when God gives you and opportunity.  I had no business cards, no pen and no paper.  I offered my services to Natalie Cole and three days later her manager called to say “Natalie wants you to do some alterations.”  From those alterations Carter-Narcisse went on the road with Natalie Cole for almost a year doing her hair, makeup and gowns.

It’s been a long and winding road from the small island of Barbados to literally touching the faces of tinsel town royalty.  Carter-Narcisse considers is “very fortunate to have a career as a makeup artist and not just a Black makeup artist…I was fortunate a lot of my films weren’t pigeon holed.  They appealed to a more general market because it can be tough in this industry for people to see you as simply an artist and not the color of your skin.

“I hope they market Sparkle as just a really sweet movie.  I think it will be fabulous.  The trailer looks hot and I’m looking forward to seeing it.  It’s Whitney’s last movie and I think people want to see it, which is great.”

In the meantime Carter-Narcisse is spending quality time at home in Florida with her family.  She is teaching makeup to a younger generation of artists and is actively working to help build the film industry in Barbados.

Category: Arts & Culture