Amber Riley Says New Documentary Celebrating Black Beauty Is 'Not About Struggle but About Triumph '

Amber Riley
Amber Riley

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Amber Riley is lending her voice to an important project: The Black Beauty Effect, a three-part documentary series that delves into the change that has taken place within the beauty industry in recent years, as told from the perspective of successful Black women who galvanized it.

The Black Beauty Effect was created and executive produced by former Degrassi: The Next Generation star Andrea Lewis and features appearances from beauty industry heavyweights such as Jackie Aina and Kahlana Barfield Brown. Also executive producing the project are Emmy-nominated producer, CJ Faison and Keesha Boyd, executive director of Multicultural Entertainment at Xfinity. In addition to Riley and Lewis, fellow actress Meagan Good also makes an appearance.

For Lewis, The Black Beauty Effect is a project that ties together her experiences with Black beauty both in Hollywood and off camera.

"As someone who grew up on TV, I've been in makeup rooms my whole life and experienced the good, the bad and the ugly," she told PEOPLE.  "And then in my real life I'm a big beauty lover and I consume a lot of media, so I was always able to see the inspiration, influence and evolution of Black beauty but I never felt like I saw a story that celebrated Black beauty and highlighted the people pushing the boundaries and creating space for us."

Lewis explains that conversations about Black beauty are necessary and appreciated today because "we're removing the gatekeepers. Black women have always known that our beauty was special and diverse and constantly imitated, but now we're in control of the conversations from social media to magazines to TV and film."

And because Riley also grew up in the industry, it was only fitting that she partake in the project as well. Here's what the actress had to say about her beauty journey, the evolution within the industry and the importance of docs such as The Black Beauty Effect.

PEOPLE: Why did you want to get involved in this documentary?

Amber Riley: "When they told me that they were talking about all things beauty, and especially when they told me they wanted me to talk about my experience in Hollywood with hair and makeup and skincare, I had to be a part of it because I feel like it's a story that's not really been told, or it's kind of glazed over. We've got to record that and put it out there so that people know, so I was happy to be a part of telling that story."

PEOPLE: What have your experiences with Black beauty in Hollywood been like?

Amber Riley: "My beauty journey has been very interesting in Hollywood. Red carpet? Amazing! Finding that glam team that vibes with you and has the same vision and does your hair and your makeup [hasn't been an issue]. But on set, it's a lot different. You are subjected to whatever team is there, and we're just now kind of getting to a point where they are listening to Black and Brown women when it comes to our makeup and our hair.

My experience has not been the greatest. I have been one of those actresses that they talk about where I bring all my own stuff, and I end up doing my own hair and makeup. It's happened a couple of times, even when I was on the set of Glee. [While] my makeup artist was a White woman, she wanted to learn [how to do my makeup properly] so we collaborated. But I had way more trouble with hair. I had [someone in the] department tell me it would just be easier if I wore a wig. So, I'm always ready to do my own hair and advocate for myself in that space because I've always had to."

PEOPLE: Now that makeup lines are expanding the shades they offer and more people are talking about protective hair styling and how to care for Black hair, do you see a difference between when you first got into the industry and now? 

Amber Riley: "I do, especially because there are now bigger television shows and showrunners and executive producers that are Black. I mean we have Robin Thede, Issa Rae. We have all these new figureheads who make [the hair and makeup process] very important. I've never felt more at home than I did when I did A Black Lady Sketch Show. I knew that I was not going to have to go in and fuss about my hair and makeup, because that is something that was important to them.

A lot of people don't know, but you have to be in the union to be able to do hair and makeup [on set], and it's been kind of a gatekeeper type of thing. But now there are a lot of younger people that are getting into the union and they want to know how to do all types of hair and all types of makeup. They're opening up their eyes and trying to understand. [And now] I have been on a set where a White woman was able to slay my makeup. So I think that there are strides that are being made."

Amber Riley
Amber Riley

Gregg DeGuire/Getty

PEOPLE: And what are some Black beauty myths you had to bust for yourself?

Amber Riley: "That my hair had to be straight. I had to come to terms with the fact that my edges aren't going to slick down and it's okay that my hair is kinky. [I learned that] my natural hair is red carpet ready, that I don't have to have straight hair on the red carpet. Braids are red carpet ready. Locs are red carpet ready. Those are also beautiful hairstyles that belong on the carpet."

Q: What are some favorite beauty products right now?

Amber Riley: For skincare, I love Buttah — it's Black-owned — by Dorion Renaud. I just love his products, especially his shea butter face moisturizer. He has a vitamin C skin brightener, a serum that's absolutely amazing. For hair, Shea Moisture, Cantu and EDEN BodyWorks are really good. Those are some of my favorites."

PEOPLE: What do you hope people take away from this documentary?

Amber Riley: "I hope that the women that came before us and took those first steps to create these foundations and skincare routines and hair schools, get the flowers that they deserve. I hope people laugh. Honestly, the documentary is not about struggle, but it is about triumph. And that is something that I think is absolutely beautiful. Just seeing all these successful Black women, I hope that other Black women are encouraged, because you are definitely going to walk out [away] thinking you can own your own beauty brand as soon as you see this documentary."

The Black Beauty Effect premieres on Comcast Xfinity and XUMO on Nov. 25, 2022.