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Region artist makes history with Academy Award win; Munster grad stars in Oscar-winning film
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Region artist makes history with Academy Award win; Munster grad stars in Oscar-winning film

Gary native Mia Neal made record-breaking headlines at the 2021 Academy Awards, and a Munster High School graduate sat among other actors as the movie in which she stars snagged an Oscar.

The multiplex at 6550 American Way in Portage, most recently known as GQT Portage 16 IMAX + GDX, went dark at the start of the coronavirus pandemic last March, and rumors had been swirling about its demise after its owner Goodrich Quality Theaters went bankrupt. A new operator plans to revive the 3,058-seat theater with two huge IMAX screens, aiming to reopen it on July 1. Emagine Entertainment, Inc., a Michigan-based chain with theaters in Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois, is taking over the Portage 16 IMAX and three other former Goodrich theaters in Noblesville, Indiana; Batavia, Illinois, and Saginaw, Michigan.

Neal, along with stylists Jamika Wilson and Sergio Lopez-Rivera, won the Academy Award for Best Hair and Makeup on Sunday for their work on Netflix's "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom."

Neal and Wilson are the first black women to win an Academy Award in the Hair and Makeup category in the history of the Oscars.

"I want to say thank you to our ancestors who put the work in, were denied but never gave up," Neal said as she accepted the Oscar. "I also stand here as Jamika and I break this glass ceiling with so much excitement for the future because I can picture black trans women standing up here and our Asian sisters and our Latina sisters and Indigenous women, and I know that one day it won't be unusual or groundbreaking, it will just be normal."

Munster High School graduate Zaria Suggs, also known as Zaria Simone, attended the Academy Awards with the team representing the film "Two Distant Strangers," in which she stars. Suggs is credited as simply Zaria in the movie, which won an Oscar for Best Live-Action Short Film.

Neal, who is the daughter of Gary's Dena Holland-Neal and the granddaughter of the late former Gary Deputy Mayor James Holland, is a graduate of Horace Mann High School in Gary. She also attended Jackson State University in Jackson, Mississippi, and studied wig design and makeup at Juilliard.

"I'm overwhelmed," said Neal's mother, Holland-Neal, about her daughter's Oscar win. "I was just speechless. I had a Zoom party going on so everyone was screaming," she added. "I'm so proud of her."

Holland-Neal said it was "fantastic" to hear that her daughter won. "I'm still floating and trying to process that this really happened," she said.

During the Oscar acceptance speech, Neal told the crowd she was raised by her grandfather and thanked him for his example.

"He was an original Tuskegee Airman. He represented the U.S. in the first Pan-Am Games. He went to Argentina. ... He graduated from Northwestern University at a time when they did not allow blacks to stay on campus," she said.

While working on "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom," which stars Viola Davis as Blues singer Rainey, Neal fashioned a wig out of horsehair for Davis. It was customary that Rainey wore horsehair wigs while performing. And Neal and the team wanted everything authentic.

According to, Neal said the horsehair she ordered to work with arrived covered in "manure and lice eggs." 

"I ended up building that wig, strand by strand. And every time I pulled those little hairs through, I had to scrape off the manure. It was a challenge, and that was the first time I had ever built a wig with horsehair," she said.

Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis Police Officer who killed George Floyd last May, was found guilty of all charges on Tuesday.


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Entertainment Editor/Features Reporter

Eloise is A&E Editor and a food, entertainment and features writer for The Times, subjects she has covered for over two decades in and around the Region. She was the youngest of eight in a Chicago household filled with fantastic cooks and artists.

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