For four seasons, FX’s buzzy drama Snowfall has transported audiences back to Los Angeles, California during the infamous 1980s crack cocaine “epidemic” for an hour each week. From the writing to costumes, hair, and editing, meticulous work has been put into authentically portraying the fast-paced and dangerous life of drug dealing during that era. While other shows get dragged online for bad wigs or aesthetic inconsistencies, part of Snowfall’s lasting appeal lies in its visual authenticity of Blackness in LA in the 80s. It’s no wonder that Black women behind-the-scenes are the show’s secret weapon.
“It’s easy for me to describe the look because I came up in the ‘80s,” Andrea Jackson, head of Snowfall’s hair department, tells Unbothered. “That’s my era.” The era is as much a character in the show as its breakout star, Damson Idris. Snowfall follows Franklin Saint (Idris) as he moves up the ranks of the drug world during the height of the crack epidemic.
As Snowfall returns this week for season 5, the show is at the top of its game narratively and visually, thanks in part to Jackson and her team who make sure we’re paying attention to Michael Hyatt (Cissy Saint) and Angela Lewis’ (Aunt Louie) performances, instead of being distracted by a wonky weave.
Snowfall’s lasting appeal lies in its visual authenticity of Blackness in LA in the 80s. It’s no wonder that Black women behind-the-scenes are the show’s secret weapon.
Jackson, who has been doing hair professionally since the ’90s, is no stranger to working on period pieces: she was a hairstylist on the Muhammed Ali biopic Ali and the forthcoming George Foreman biopic. It was while working on 2015’s NWA film Straight Outta Compton, where she met Snowfall’s creator, the late legendary filmmaker John Singleton, and he invited her to work on Snowfall. “I thought he was joking,” Jackson recounts. “He was like ‘Are you gonna do my show? And I said, ‘Of course I will.’”
For Snowfall writer and editor Jeanine Daniels, her journey to being staffed on the show came through a lot of, in her own words, “finagling, moving and wiggling.” It was after being inducted into the Writers Guild of America from her time writing on the show Love Is on OWN, that she met Snowfall’s co-executive producer Walter Mosley who she says told her after they spoke that he thought she was “hella interesting.” From there Daniels sent him a writing sample and did an interview where she worried that she didn’t get the gig. “I talked hella shit,” she laughs. But it was that meeting that led to producers calling her back and saying “We need you in the room.”
Crafting the ‘80s aesthetic of Snowfall was an exciting undertaking for Daniels who said that she brought in notebooks full of articles excitedly telling fellow staff members, “Yo! this really happened! We can do this! We can do this! We can do this!” She also spoke to her parents who grew up in LA about news events during that time and would go to the Los Angeles Public Library’s archives to verify their accounts.
While focused primarily on pop culture relating to the ‘80s as inspiration, Daniels says that the writers’ room also found influence in films like The Godfather and Heat. “I said, ‘We need to be talking about Belly! We need to be talking about Shottas!” Her enthusiasm comes in part from being born and raised in Los Angeles which has given her a “Snowfall experience,” she says. “I love my city. I represent pretty hardcore.”
Jackson, who similarly got her start in Los Angeles working in salons and going to school at Aveda Hair School in the famed South Central area of LA near Crenshaw and Slauson, started her career by doing hair for music videos and for sitcoms such as The Parkers and All of Us.
Hair continues to be an area of contention for Black actors and actresses in Hollywood who have spoken out about their frustrations with non-Black on-set hair stylists who often aren’t trained in how to handle natural hairstyles. In Jackson’s opinion, the hair sets the tone for the show’s entire look. “Without the hair, you won’t be able to tell the period,” she says. There are, of course, the standard Black hairstyles that come to people’s minds when thinking about the 1980s: a jheri curl, an afro, a box cut, and a ducktail. An average day on set as the head of the hair department has Jackson managing all of the hair stylists as well as creating all of the looks. “We all come together as a team in agreement of what looks fit certain characters.” She also consults with the actors by looking at a series of looks she pulled from sources like yearbooks, Ebony magazine, and online before landing on which hairstyle best suits them for their character before deciding on a hairstyle for each character. “Like as far as [Amin Joseph who plays Jerome Saint], when he puts his jheri curl wig on — which I made specially for him — he immediately gets into character,” Jackson says.
When [Amin Joseph who plays Jerome Saint] puts his jheri curl wig on
— which I made specially for him
— he immediately gets into character.”
ANDREA JACKSON, HEAD OF SNOWFALL’S HAIR DEPARTMENT
Working as a story editor as well as a writer on the show has allowed Daniels to use her imagination — and sometimes, she gets carried away “I am overly opinionated and brash,” she says. She also recounts getting into creative clashes with more senior writers. “[The higher level writers] are like ‘Hey we don’t have the budget for this’ or, ‘We can’t really fly to Fiji to do this,’” Daniels says. “And I’m like, ‘no we can do everything! We can do this!’”
The vibrancy and realness of Snowfall lends itself to the world that Jackson and Daniels have helped create. The result is a testament to the work that Black women behind the lens are able to do when given the resources and opportunity by the industry to do it.
Daniels says that this season fans can expect a lot of “twists and turns,” a lot of “intricate betrayals” and a lot of “character development.” No matter what surprises come from the new season of Snowfall, there is sure to be violence on the streets of South Central, LA, some greed, warring egos with a side of family drama, and, of course, no shortage of curl activator.