Hollywood has struggled for years with Black hair. Black hair is often thought of as our natural kinks and coils, our waist-length braids, twists, and even wigs. Natural hair is not often shown on television screens and can be very frustrating. Why aren’t Black hairstyles more prominently shown on TV? What is the problem with natural hair representation? What does this mean for Black women who love their hair full-length? Black women are versatile today, whether it’s fashion, jewelry, or beauty looks. Hollywood is doing Black girls and women a disservice by not allowing natural hair to be represented. Hollywood is doing Black women and girls a disservice by not showing us all wearing wigs.
Taraji P. Johnson plays Empire’s Cookie Lyon, who wears a weave or hair wig all season. There are other characters, such as Empire’s Cookie Lyon (Taraji P. Henson), who wears a weave or a hair wig all the time. Her natural hair is not allowed to be seen unless she’s in distress, exhausted, or in an extremely difficult situation. Although some might find the change from a wig or natural hair insignificant, it symbolizes that viewers believe natural hair is something to be ashamed of. This includes discrimination in the United States, where the CROWN Act still applies, and in countries with a majority Black population like South Africa and Jamaica. These bans on natural hairstyles, including locs, in predominantly Black countries are a result of colonialism. Its ills still linger across many countries.
Pimlico Academy in London, a secondary school for Black and Muslim students, faced resistance after it proposed a ban on natural hair. This is because natural hair has been demonized and politicized throughout history. This is not an excuse. It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t wear our natural hair on and off-screen. It was delightful to see Monet, played by Savannah Lee Smith on Gossip Girl, show off her hairstyles in the new reboot. Monet de Haan’s hairstyle is a common choice among today’s youth. It gives an accurate portrayal of 16 year-old girls. Seeing her twists on TV made me think about the power and importance of representation. Her character was immediately appealing to me. I also loved how confident she looked with her natural hair. This is a conscious style choice that shows HBO’s efforts to be more culturally sensitive and thoughtful about Black hair.
There will be no more shows that portray Black girls and women with negative hair images in 2021. It is vital to consider the cultural impact of natural hairstyles on television, particularly as more Black girls and women feel confident with their hair.
In a 2014 paper, Bankhead and Johnson noted that women of African descent today prefer to keep their hair natural, rather than the natural hair movement of 1960s and 1970s. Many feel that natural hair is no longer a political statement. Instead, they are embracing their natural state and expressing self-acceptance. A number of other teen dramas like Disney+’s Big Shot and Netflix’s Grand Army, as well as CW’s All American, are showing the diversity and beauty of Black hair. Think Olive Cooper (Monique Green), Dominique “Dom”) Pierre’s (Odley Jan) long braids or Simone Hicks (Geffri Maia) ever-changing hairstyles which include buns, cornrows and slicked-back hair. British Teen Drama Get Even features Margot Rivers (Bethany Antonia) as one of its protagonists. She is seen wearing a fluffier hairstyle throughout the series. Antonia, who plays Margot, has a great Instagram post. It has been a dream to be able to play Margot, who is known for her natural hair. She wrote that she grew up with my hair chemically straightened and that the desire to ruin my natural curls was only fuelled by the absence of them on my favorite shows.
“From the very first audition for Get Even I promised Margot that if I got her, she would proudly wear her natural hair. She did. “Bashirat Oladele, a freelance journalist covering politics and pop culture. You can find her work in Teen Vogue and Cosmopolitan, Polygon, Teen Vogue, Stylist, Polygon and Cosmopolitan.