Demopolis graduate soars high in makeup artistry

Published 8:00 am Monday, March 4, 2024

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

By Andrea Burroughs

Some people in Demopolis might remember Malika James, and some might not. While James is originally from Ohio, she graduated from Demopolis High School (DHS) in 2000. James said she moved to Demopolis when she was very young and only lived there until she was about five years old. Her family moved back to Ohio, but James often visited her family in the summer.

“A lot of my time was spent in the Deep South and the Midwest. But many of my cousins and family were in Alabama, so I felt at home here. I still feel like it’s home,” said James.

Email newsletter signup

Today, James is a well-known makeup artist who has worked with many celebrities during her career. Her most recent work was as the makeup artist for Ludacris during the 2024 Super Bowl.

James discovered her love for makeup during her visits to Demopolis. Her aunt owned a hair salon called Mary’s Hair Care Studio, where James would do clients’ eyebrows.

“I was a kid then, probably 12 years old. I don’t know if I should have even been doing people’s eyebrows, but apparently, I was really good at it. So my aunt let me do it,” said James.

James said that when she graduated from high school, she planned to go straight to Los Angeles rather than to college. However, her mother insisted that she attend college to give her an extra step towards her career. James attended the University of Alabama and graduated in 2005 with a degree in film and television.

“I wanted to be in TV and film in some capacity. But makeup was just something that was really cool, and I thought I could merge the two. So, after I graduated from the University of Alabama, I ended up getting a job doing a Lil’ Jon music video. And it changed like everything for me,” James said.

James eventually moved to Atlanta where she was hired to do an Angie Stone album cover. James said she and Stone got along well and through Stone’s connections, James ended up doing makeup for a TV show called “The Game” that aired on BET (Black Entertainment Television) and The CW in 2006.

“It was amazing. It literally changed my life forever. Because of that TV show, I was able to join the film and television union, which allows you to work on other jobs. A lot of people don’t know, but unions cover all kinds of things, from trucks to teachers. But for television and film, there’s a makeup and hair union,” said James. “In order to work on television and in films like ‘The Hunger Games,’ ‘ You People’ and ‘GI Jane,’ you have to be a union member. Because I worked on ‘The Game’ for about 90 days, and it flipped, I was able to join the union. And joining opened up everything for me because, from that point, I could do all of these on TV shows and films.”

Since joining the union, James has worked on big-name television shows such as “The Walking Dead,” “Single Ladies,” “Grown-ish,” and “Blackish.” During her time in Atlanta, James also worked with many celebrities, such as Janelle Monáe, rapper Big Boi, OutKast, Ludacris, and Arthur Blank, the owner of the Atlanta Falcons.

In 2015, James moved from Atlanta to Los Angeles because she wanted to join another union to work in television and film in Los Angeles. While working with Gabrielle Union on the show “Being Mary Jane,” James got the opportunity to become a star waiver. A star waiver is a makeup artist who an A-list celebrity has personally chosen to be their personal makeup person. When a celebrity puts in a request for someone, it is called a star request.

“Honestly, it’s been a blessing every step of the way. Even though some days don’t feel that way because it’s still a job and the end of the day. And with any job, you have your moments where you feel like this isn’t it,” said James. “But then, at the same time, I look around, and I’m reminded that people who work with me or people that I get to work with were dreamers. They didn’t give up on their dream, and neither did I. It’s been a dream of mine to do the job that I’ve been doing ever since I was a little kid.”

James has worked in makeup for the Super Bowl in 2022 and 2024. Her most recent work was her first time as the department head for the event, and she was Ludacris’ personal makeup artist. James said she got the 2022 job through a deal between Jay-Z and Roc Nation, which were going to start taking over and preparing for the halftime performances.

“What it did was level the playing field, and it allowed people of color to get these jobs that were normally never given to us before. So, there was never a black department head for makeup for the Super Bowl. Those weren’t jobs, opportunities that were given to us before,” said James. 

Now that James has been in her career field for over ten years, she has some specific goals that she wants to accomplish. Her first goal is to win an award for makeup. She wants to win either an Oscar, an Emmy, or a Guild award for her work on television and film. James also wants to retire respectfully and be a good mother to her two-year-old son. 

James also said that Black History Month is important to her because it is a time to be reminded of the contributions of the people who came before and their sacrifices.

“Black History Month, to me, means black history is life. Literally, it is my life. And I’m so grateful that I’m black. I’m so grateful that I had time in Alabama. I’m so grateful for that because it showed me the resilience of us as black people,” said James. “But it also showed me that there can be some ugliness against it. But even through that, we still shine. We still become these magical people that make dreams out of nothing.”

James’ advice to young people today, specifically young black people, is that it doesn’t matter where they come from. What matters is how far their imaginations can take them and how far their work ethic will take them.

“I just want people to know that you can be from anywhere and do some pretty incredible things,” said James.