Raise your hand if you fell out when you heard that author Trisha R. Thomas’s can’t-put-down debut novel Nappily Ever After, which inspired many women to embrace their natural beauty and take charge of their lives, was being adapted into a feature film for Netflix? *raises hand hella high *
Yes, it’s real, y’all. Ten years after it was first announced that Halle Berry was going to shave her head to play Thomas’s wonderfully complex black heroine—in a big screen production that quietly faded away into oblivion—the film is back on track with a new leading lady (Sanaa Lathan!), director, and a supporting cast that includes Lynn Whitfield.
If you’re unfamiliar with the story, here’s a quick cheat sheet: 30-something Venus Johnston (whose name is Violet in the movie) is at a crossroads in her life. While her career is flourishing, her relationship with long-time love Clint has become stagnant. When Clint’s commitment phobia becomes intolerable for her, she dumps him and also decides to go for a dramatic new look—cutting off her relaxed locks in favor of a short natural ‘do. Never did she imagine that this change would affect how her coworkers, lovers, friends, and family would view her—but most importantly how it would impact her relationship with herself. A narrative that is more than just about the Big Chop, Nappily Ever After is a rallying call for black women to embrace their inner beauty and reclaim their happiness.
I recently caught up with Thomas to talk about natural hair, Black Girl Magic, and what die-hard readers and new fans can expect from the film.
On its “controversial” title
When Nappily Ever After was first published in 2001, folks accused Thomas of “glorifying” nappy hair. To which she responds, “The words to me are irrelevant. It’s more about the intent behind it. What are people putting behind it? There is nothing wrong with the word. My whole structure behind the book was to put nappy and happy together. If you’ve read the books, you know that this is about having a positive state of mind.” What is more important to Thomas is how much energy we put into our hair too often at our own detriment. “If you are always worried about your hair, you will always put yourself second place in your own mind.”
On its serendipitous timing
Having written additional novels in the series (totaling 9) after the first iteration of the film fell through, Thomas was starting to feel a kind of way after seeing so many books from white authors make their way to the big screen instead. But back then, Beverly Bond hadn’t created the Black Girls Rock! Awards yet, Cashawn Thompson hadn’t revolutionized the way we saw ourselves with Black Girl Magic yet, and there weren’t countless vloggers teaching us all how to better care for our natural strands. Today, we have all this and more. “Back in the day, it was only about what we saw from white women. But today, we have our own standard, and I am so grateful. It feels like [the film] was supposed to happen now,” Thomas said.
On her favorite celeb hair icon at the moment
Amandla Stenberg. “Seeing young girls like her on film embracing their natural hair is beautiful! It’s wonderful. It’s really a sight to hold.”
On her involvement with the film
While Thomas isn’t a consultant on the film, she was involved in the creative process. Among her notes to the writers was “It is important that [Venus] be a real person and the film retains the value of the story.”
On her favorite black woman author
“Toni Morrison. I’ve been inspired by [her work] over the years. I’ve always respected her language and voice, but mostly the fact that she takes her time and processes a story so fully that even when you read the novel, you want to savor it slowly.”
On the differences between the book and film
If you’re like me and read the book, your brain is probably already churning about how [your favorite aspect about the book] will be depicted in the film. So, let’s just get this out of the way: Venus’s name has been changed to Violet in the movie. And the Big Chop is done accidentally as opposed to in the book. Go ahead and marinate on both those things for a bit. Thomas says, “I fought against the name change several times.” But she remains confident that the film will still connect with die-hard readers. “It is still the same story about a young woman who goes through a breakup in her life and decides to change things in her own way to live differently and to understand herself. Her hair becomes part of that,” Thomas continues. “What I see, think, and feel about the characters is the same in the movie.”
On who will play Clint
While Lathan has been cast as Violet, Whitfield as Violet’s disapproving mother, and Ernie Hudson as Violet’s twice-born dad, we’ve been kept in suspense about who will play Clint, Violet’s former bae who has a significant role in the story. However, he’s already been cast. “The studio does it their way as far as announcements go. But they’ve got their guy already. He’s great.”
On Haifaa al-Monsour as director
As much as I admire Wadjda, the first feature film shot entirely in Saudi Arabia and the first full length film directed by a Saudi woman, I was surprised when I learned al-Monsour was going to helm Nappily, a story that is unapologetically black though equally feminist. But Thomas assures she’s a really perfect choice. “I’m really happy with her. I think she’s going to add another level.”
On what she wants audiences to take away from the film
“Love and self-acceptance. I want audiences to love, stay healthy and treat themselves with respect,” Thomas says. “I can’t wait for the audience to finally see what Nappily Ever After is all about!”