I remember the first time I got a weave with vivid accuracy. The pain of a curved needle grazing my scalp and the satisfying stares from strangers as I walked through the world with long, “beautiful” hair. I learned early in life, that Black hair — the kind that kinks and curls — was considered all things but beautiful. Political, unkempt, ugly is more like it. I didn’t have to know what good hair was, I just knew what it wasn’t.
Justin Simien’s upcoming hair horror flick Bad Hair exposes the pressure Black women face to appeal to European beauty standards. And this hair being the key holder to ascending the professional ranks.
Simien’s sophomore effort is about more than a bad weave (that kills people), of course, and more about the terrifying act of being forced to “conform.” At least that’s how breakout star of the film, Elle Lorraine, sees it. We caught up with Lorraine and her co-star ahead of the Hulu debut and here’s their take on how they learned to redefine bad hair.
“There’s so many ways in which we can dive into the subtext of the film, but ultimately I think it just, it means conforming,” says Lorraine via Zoom. It’s a double slot junket and she’s paired with Lena Waithe, who is equally as warming. I tilt the camera to my left and reveal the 13-month-old sitting beside me. They instantly light up and declare it the best interview of their morning.
Lorraine embodies Anna Bludso — a timid young professional with big dreams of one day hosting her own music countdown show on the Culture TV network. Her new boss, ex-model Zora (Vanessa Williams) recommends she change her hair to elevate in her career, leading Bludso to hairstylist Virgie (Laverne Cox), who gives her a fresh weave. All of which is the premise of Bad Hair — how Black women face oppression based on their hair. And how it is instilled in us on every level.
“Little black girls who have hair that somebody identified as nappy or unruly — you automatically feel like, ‘Oh, my hair is doing something wrong.’ Like ‘My hair is not cooperating,” says Lena Waithe jumping into the conversation. “That stays with you. So many people have stories from their childhood. That’s where this stuff starts,” Waithe continued. “It’s so ingrained in us from the very beginning. And I think that’s why it takes us these very long and convoluted journeys to find what makes us happy and how we want to wear our hair, how we choose to do it.”
Lorraine and Waithe both have their own personal journeys with their natural hair that they channeled into their roles.
“I remember that I was trying to transition and it just was not working,” Elle reveals. “So I just cut it all off. I remember the first time I washed it and saw these curls that I did not know existed.” Despite the beauty she had discovered, getting to a comfortable place with her hair would take time. “I had to learn what it meant to moisturize it, not manipulate it too much and just to honor it.”
Waithe opened up about her lock journey and how she felt like she belonged to a hair family. “I think as a queer black woman, it’s was a bit of a stereotype that we have locks, but it did feel like very much, like I was a part of a family of people.” She continued, “You go through a lock journey. Cause that’s what it is. It takes time and years. And then another part of your journey oftentimes, to cut them off. And some people start again. I’m enjoying the shortness, but it really is. It’s very spiritual. It’s very ritualistic, and now, getting haircuts is very emotional as getting my locks twisted”
Both Waithe and Lorraine channel their journeys into Bad Hair and with Simien at the helm, created a film that cleverly challenges White supremacy.
“Justin is brilliant,” saids Lorraine. “[He] has so much foresight and knows what he wants and knows who he is, but he’s also so trusting of his crew and his actor. So it was, it was like none other, and I’ve never gotten that experience where somebody trusted me so much, who I trust you so much. And we just jumped together, but it felt like a family. And he was the one who helped set the stage for that for all of us.”
Bad Hair hits Hulu’s streaming service on October 23.