Violet sets her alarm extra early so she can sneak out of bed, fix her hair, and sneak back into bed so her boyfriend thinks she wakes up like this. She does not. An exacting mother made sure that Violent has spent her whole life hiding her true hair. But even with all the tools and chemicals and salon appointments in the world, Violet is still Cinderella waiting for the clock to strike midnight. When it rains, or is even humid, the magic disappears and her hair reverts back to its natural state. So her life revolves around monitoring the weather and keeping her boyfriend’s hands away from her head.
On her birthday, Violet’s hair is perfect (though not without some drama). She is expecting a ring from her boyfriend of 2 years and instead gets a puppy. Boyfriend accuses her of being “too perfect” so a breakup tailspin ensues, including stops at ‘fuck you hair’ and ‘drunkenly buzzing it all off.’ But can Violet change her attitude and values to reflect her newly bald head?
So, okay. I’m white. Violet is black. I am not the best person to review this film. I mean, on some level, many if not most women will relate. So much of our identity is tied up in our hair. But it’s different for Violet, for women of colour. Black hair, for some unknowable reason, has been viewed as…inferior? Is that the right word? Even very young girls may feel that their hair is somehow ‘wrong.’ A black woman who wears her hair naturally may be viewed as unprofessional at work, unkempt at school, perhaps even viewed as her making a political statement to the world. Culturally, hair may serve as a bonding tool, a thing that unites black people (even black men – there’s a whole franchise of Barbershop movies) but it can be misunderstood outside the culture. Black women make up 70% of the hair care market, but the marketing always features white women with long, straight, glossy locks. As do TV shows and movies and magazine covers. So to attain white standards of beauty, black women blow through time, money, and PAIN to achieve the kind of hair that grows naturally out of white heads but not their own. They’ve felt the need to suppress the natural texture of their hair not just to look attractive but to be accepted at work and in the world. But it takes a toll. Viola Davis said in an interview recently how nice it was to wear her hair naturally in Widows (which had a black director, Steve McQueen). She’s used to wigs, weaves, and chemical relaxers just to present ‘the right kind of black’ to Hollywood and audiences. As you know, there’s still a huge gulf to be overcome in terms of media representing people of colour, but even when a film does hire a black actress, she will often arrive on set to find that the hair and makeup team have not thought through her particular needs. They may be unequipped, in terms of tools and experience, to deal with her hair. It is rare to see a black woman on screen rocking her own natural hair. And that’s okay if it’s a real choice. I don’t wear my hair natural either. But for me it’s a matter of style and personal preference. For a woman of colour it may not feel like any choice at all.
So yeah, Nappily Ever After is a romance, but it’s one tied into culture and identity and hair and femininity and acceptance. Sanaa Lathan is really terrific in it, and relatable too. Even though the script itself is very much about the black woman experience, there are universal themes of authenticity that anyone can appreciate. There’s something very powerful about having the courage to be yourself – but I think there’s something even more powerful about living in a world where that wouldn’t be discouraged in the first place, even if that doesn’t exist yet.
[Women of colour, feel free to correct me or to add to the conversation. And to anyone interested in the topic, Chris Rock (yes, THAT Chris Rock) has a cool documentary about it called Good Hair.]