Growing up as a Black girl, I had a love/hate relationship with my natural hair. When I was younger, my mom would go out of her way to make sure I had at least two perms per year — one at the start of the school year and one at the end. I equated beauty to bone straight hair rather than appreciating what had been growing out of my own scalp the entire time. I rarely saw my type of hair depicted in mainstream cinema. That has changed over the last few years with more films that highlight the nuances of Black hair.
Dear White People’s own Justin Simien creates a conversation around Black hair and its complexities with his sophomore film Bad Hair. The film is set in the 80s New Jack Swing era, when Black culture was transitioning from the back seat to the front lines in media and entertainment.
Bad Hair follows the life of Anna Bludso, an ambitious young woman in her twenties, who is kicking off her career at CULTURE. Bludso attempts to balance her aspirations while fighting against self-esteem, childhood trauma and respectability politics in the workplace as she moves through the ranks with her 4C-textured locs.
With a star-studded cast from Laverne Cox and Vanessa Williams to newcomer Elle Lorraine, Simien’s follow-up film has given viewers an in-depth, multidimensional peek into the journey, feelings, victories and trials of Black hair.
Before you dive into Bad Hair, here’s HelloBeautiful starter kit for movies and films that shed a light on Black hair, our journey as a Black woman and our inner thoughts of self-worth and expression through hair.
Matthew A. Cherry’s Hair Love
Nearly every Black woman has that rush of nostalgia when she thinks of sitting between her mother’s legs getting her hair done with the smell of Sulfur 8, Blue Magic and Hair Mayonnaise. The Oscar-winning short, created by Matthew A. Cherry, tugs on the heart strings of any Black parent and child alike who’ve ever struggled with a personal hair journey. This animated short tells the story of a beautiful father-daughter relationship between Stephen and Zuri as Stephen learns the ins and outs of his daughter’s hair. Let’s just say there’s a bit of a struggle in the beginning. “You can make the journey with a little bit of work, and a whole lot of love,” says Issa Rae’s voiceover as Zuri’s mother/natural hair vlogger. This short co-produced by Jordan Peele, Yara Shahidi and Gabrielle Union-Wade and husband Dwayne Wade shows the Black male in a loving, tender role as he teaches his daughter about confidence in the absence of her mother.
Spike Lee’s School Daze
If you’ve ever wondered where the term “jiggaboo” comes from, keep reading… The infamous “Good and Bad Hair” musical scene performed by Tisha Campbel-Martin and Kyme is sing-songy war of the worlds between the “Jiggaboos” and the “Wannabes,” two cliques at Mission College in Atlanta, Georgia. The “wannabes,” derived from “wanna be better than me” are members of Gamma Ray who are majority light-skinned women with straighter hair and, for some, contact lenses to change the shade of their eyes. Jiggaboos are of a darker complexion and embrace their coils and curls with pride, while mocking the Wannabes for conforming to a Eurocentric definition of beauty.
One of Spike Lee’s most notable productions, the film went on to receive positive recognition for its depiction of the conflicts within the Black community. The infamous lyrics of “Straight and Nappy” produced by Bill Lee pins the two cliques against one another as they critique each other’s beauty standards relating to boys and self-worth: “If a fly should land on your head/Then I’m sure he’d break all his legs/Cause you got so much grease up there/Dear, is that weave that you wear”. School Daze holds up a mirror to colorism and nepotism in the Black community as the lyrics ring a bell for those claiming to “uplift a race,” but pin ourselves against one another.
Nappily Ever After Starring Sanaa Lathan
Netflix’s original movie Nappily Ever After truthfully tells the Black woman’s hair narrative from beginning to end about a woman who measures her beauty from the crown of her head rather than the depth of her heart. Violet (Sanaa Lathan) has always been groomed to believe that straight hair is perfect hair and to have her hair bone straightened, sew-in or silk pressed at all times. One wrong move at the hair salon turns her life upside down, forcing her to adapt with her mishaps by dying her hair blonde. When the world as she knows it comes crashing down and her relationship with the love of her life comes to an end, Violet in a fit of rage and despair shaves her head completely bald to strip herself of any negative thoughts, feelings or energy she had been experiencing to start anew.
Instantly regretting her decision the following morning, we travel with Violet through time as she rediscovers the true essence of self-love and finding love amongst those who deserve to love you for who you are in every sense of the word. From the boardroom to the bedroom, Violet’s hair journey parallels with her inner beauty journey and learning her worth as a Black woman who shall not be measured by what is – or is not – growing out of her hair.
Chris Rock’s Good Hair
“Daddy, why don’t I have good hair?,” asked a young girl to her father. This comedy documentary started off as a brain child of comedian Chris Rock when prompted by his young daughter about what constitutes ‘good hair’ versus ‘bad hair’ for the modern-day Black woman. A compilation of interviews with Ice-T and Dr. Maya Angelou to trips to local beauty and braiding salons, Rock takes us on a candid journey through with beauticians, celebrities, and law-abiding citizens to have a conversation about what makes ‘good hair’.
This documentary gets to the nitty-gritty and down and dirty of the history behind the notions of Eurocentric beauty thrusted upon the Black community, the science behind relaxers and even a world tour with a visit to India to learn more about bundles and weaves.
Hairspray Starring Queen Latifah and Elijah Kelley
‘The Corny Collins Show’ is . . . now and forevermore . . . officially integrated!” These are the last words as said in Hairspray as a resolution to the 1960s Baltimore set movie that follows the story of Tracy Turnblad, a young girl with dreams of becoming a dancer on The Corny Collins Show on an integrated mainstream television network where Blacks can dance on the same station as white people. Every Monday, Black kids in Baltimore were subjected participate on “Negro Day,” which was sponsored by a fictional product, “Nap-Away” – For stubborn hair. Every kink, will be gone in a blink.
Though the film has a distinct focus on Turnblad, the true underlying plot is the segregation of children in the education system and lack of integration into mainstream platforms. This seemingly small dig at the texture of African-American hair was hidden with a slide of hand, within the commercial break. This musical takes a trip back in time to segregation and shed a lighthearted filter on the struggles of Black hair in the 60s.