Big Beauty Tuesday: A Look at the Legendary World of Ballroom With Makeup Artist La Sonya Gunter & Friends

La Sonya Gunter didn’t initially set out to be a makeup artist. In fact, the makeup department lead on HBO Max’s Legendary discovered her craft while still a singer-songwriter, transfixed by the transformative nature of a well-made-up face. Honing her talents while working with M.A.C. Cosmetics, Gunter found a bridge between her two passions, becoming Billy Porter’s makeup artist during his Tony Award-winning run in Kinky Boots, and later, part of the Emmy-nominated team on NBC’s Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert, where Gunter helped craft the look of Brandon Victor Dixon’s Judas Iscariot. A favorite of Porter’s, Gunter’s gifted hands are also behind some of the gender-fluid style icon’s most memorable looks, including his appearances at the 2019 Tonys, the Love Ball and his Diana Ross-inspired look for the Season 2 finale of Pose. And who could forget Porter’s show-stopping 2019 Met Gala entrance, carried onto the pink carpet as a gilded Egyptian Sun God?

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With that artistry in mind, it’s no wonder that Gunter was tapped to lead the makeup team on Legendary, a reality competition centered around ballroom culture which debuted on HBO Max in late May. While Pose has been widely credited with renewing interest and recognition of ballroom culture as first witnessed in the late ‘80s with the debut of the groundbreaking documentary Paris Is Burning (to which Pose owes much of its own inspiration and narrative), Legendary gives us a lens into contemporary ballroom culture, one that has evolved and expanded since the early 20th century to include members outside of the primarily black and Latinx LGBTQ+ communities who initially sought solace and protection within ballroom’s now-famed “houses.”

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Nevertheless, those are the communities to which we owe ballroom culture, and they both need and deserve more than our enthusiastic viewership.

On Monday, the LGBTQ+ community—and all of us who believe in equality—scored a huge victory when the Supreme Court ruled that transgender and gay people are protected under the federal law prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of sex. This, after the Trump administration revoked Obama-era healthcare protections last Friday and over 15,000 people flooded the streets of Brooklyn, N.Y. on Sunday in what many are calling the largest-ever public demonstration in support of black trans lives. The juxtaposition is telling, because even as the world is increasingly recognizing the humanity of our LGBTQ+ citizens in the realm of entertainment, too many of those cultural shifts aren’t translating to true protections for black trans lives, in particular.

As the recent mainstream adoption of the phrase “Black Lives Matter” demonstrates, social shifts are often largely due to increased visibility, representation and normalizing of diverse lives and viewpoints. So, as The Glow Up sat down with La Sonya Gunter to speak about the inspiring looks of Legendary during an already pivotal Pride Month, she made sure to share the platform with two fellow hair and makeup artists Deja Smith (aka “The Lady Deja”) and Dee Trannybear of DD-Pro Studio for a candid discussion about the impact of ballroom culture upon beauty culture, and why it’s so vital to increase LGBTQ+ visibility not only onscreen but behind the scenes, as well.

Maiysha Kai is Managing Editor of The Glow Up, co-host of The Root Presents: It's Lit! podcast, and your average Grammy-nominated goddess next door...May I borrow some sugar?

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