Viola Davis on the red carpet

Last night at the 84th annual Academy Awards, the stars lit up the red carpet in true Hollywood fashion. While many oogled the designer dresses, jewelry, and stars, black Twitter (and the Negro-net) was steadily giving props to Viola Davis for her “bold” choice to rock her natural hair on Hollywood’s biggest night.

While white folks didn’t seem to care, Twitter, Facebook, and blogs lit up with stories about how FAB Davis looked in her emerald green Vera Wang gown and short TWA (tiny weeny afro).

To say she looked stunning is an understatement. Viola glowed! Her deep brown skin positively shimmered against the contrast of the green dress, and her natural ‘do was a welcomed reprieve from the (tired) wigs she usually wears. Although I have no problem with wigs, weaves, and adding a little something to what God gave you, let’s just say Ms. Viola doesn’t always choose the best hair pieces, and after showing off her curls in the LA Times magazine shoot, I didn’t see any reason to keep them under wraps any longer.

But the relationship between black women and our hair is….complicated.

For every person who screams, “It’s just hair!” there are 20 others who will tell you it is anything but. While I hope we get to the “it’s just hair” stage in my lifetime, I won’t be surprised if it goes the way of finding Biggie and Tupac’s killers, peace in the Middle East, and putting an end to global warning: It’ll never happen.

For centuries, our bodies, our hair, and our being have been up for public discussion and display and we cannot deny the fact that sometimes hair is political.

Viola’s choice to strip down to her natural ‘do was not only a triumph for her (because she looked banging), but it was a shout out to black women around the world. By showing up sans wig, Davis told the world that black women–however we chose to look–are JUST as amazingly beautiful as anyone else.

Seeing Viola Davis shining on the red carpet and in the front row made my heart smile. Even though she didn’t bring home the Oscar (peace to Meryl Streep), Viola made an indelible mark on the show.

And as writer and culturist Rebecca Walker put it, Viola used “her hair to say, ‘Don’t be confused. I am not who I play on TV or movies. I have left the plantation and wait for no one to tell my story.’”

Esperanza Spalding and Chris Rock at the Oscars

Along with Viola’s choice to rock a slightly chunky TWA, natural hair was also center stage throughout the night. Although some cracked jokes on Chris Rock’s Fredrick Douglas ‘fro,  I must say I thought he added a bit of much-needed “color” to the otherwise white-on-white affair (and his humor? On point). Perhaps it was a tad too high, but I was feeling Rock’s hair.  Like Davis Chris Rock showed that he wasn’t really interested to caving to the traditional standards in terms of his style. Bravo, Chris.

Esperanza Spalding also graced the show with her ‘huge 70s throwback, black-power-fist-in-your-eye afro. As she sang, “What A Wonderful World,” Spalding proudly showed off her signature hairstyle and didn’t try to “tame” her hair for such a prestigious evening. While many sisters would have been looking for the nearest pressing comb (or headband), Esperanza embraced her hair and let it shine almost as loudly as her voice.

Oscar night wasn’t a complete coup for black hair, though. While Viola Davis, Chis Rock, Octavia Spencer (her hair was LAID!), and Esperanza looked absolutely magical, once again, Gabourey Sidibe got played.

  • Ms. Information

    @ Britni…..Hollering @ the Martin and Gina reference…too funny.

  • Zaza

    She’s a beautiful woman but she could have put the twins away on this occasion, I kept waiting for her to have a ‘wardwrobe malfunction’! Dress would have been much nicer without a spilt in the top of the bodice. Her hair looks lovely, And it will be so freeing for her I bet!My mother switched from plaited extensions to short natural a few years ago and often says how much easier it is in the mornings; just some cream, comb it and good to go.

    I think it is harder for young black women to go natural because although no- one wants to admit they are subject to external pressure, it’s hard to go natural in a world where straight hair is the norm and celebs and rappers reguarly disparage ‘nappy hair’ and praise ‘lightskinlonghair’.I guess you see older black women with natural hair more often because with age, comes more confidence and not giving a fug what others think! Maybe next time I take out my extenstions I’ll leave my natural hair for a bit and see how looks…

  • iQgraphics

    it is a shame that it is not just hair… because it is.

  • Bee

    Viola’s hair looked amazing (although, it would’ve looked better if it she hadn’t colored it). The dress was so beautiful on her. Esperanza’s hair, on the other hand, always bugs me. Sorry. But I like a well kept fro, not a big puffy dry-looking mass flying every which way. But I’m glad they rocked the naturals at the Academy Awards. Viola Davis is one of the only well-known black actresses (besides Whoopi) who’s ever been willing to be herself at such an award show. I appreciate her for no giving in to the weave-tastic antics that many black actresses engage in when they hit the red carpet.

  • Dalili

    I don’t know about making a statment, but it was lovely to see her look so radiant! She was beautiful.

    Esperanza looked gorgeous while singing the tribute!

    God bless Gabourey Sidibe with a stylist who knows how to play up her assets; that thing on her head last night looked as though they’d ran out of time and just slapped the only wig(or thing) they could find on her head. I want someone to do better by her.

  • All Beauty Everything

    As a black woman who just doesn’t get it and really does feel it’s just hair, rock it the way you choose, I find it crazy that so many of us whittle ourselves down to hair. Hair! It is laughable. The debates I see online between natural women and women who relax are pure comedy.

    We can be so silly and focused on the wrong things. Hair is personal choice. I personally think Viola looks great with her wigs and she looked great last night. She didn’t look great because of her hair, she looked great because she was confident, she was nominated for a prestigious award, she’s happy, she’s extremely talented, she’s a new mom to a baby girl, she’s got the love and support of her husband, but black folks have side swept all that and made this about her hair. Wow.

  • I got sense!

    Agreed. I just don’t get it.

    To Whom It May Concern,
    Regardless of how much emphasis each person DECIDES to put on hair, its importance is not the same to every man, woman and child. If your hair is everything to you and more important than your health, wealth accumulation, education, and future by all means worship your idol god but for many other women like me the DEAD fibers sprouting from my head neither make me nor break me. It’s an accessory that I adorn, care for, and change whenever I feel like it. I have more important things to worry about.

  • isola

    You go Viola, stunning. Can’t wait for the day when not wearing a wig, not straightening your hair or rocking a natural is so newsworthy.

  • Women Are Gamechangers

    As sad as her hair was, we need to let that rest. As for Viola and Esperanza loved, loved their hair. Viola was beyond stunning. Viola deserves a win after 2 nominations for a meatier role. We need someone to write her a phenomenal script. Esperanza’s ‘fro was the boss and she sang beautifully.

  • Usagi

    Viola look fugly w/ short hair and she should’ve stayed a bruntte. It is just hair. I will NEVER understand other bp obsessing about hair. I find annoying and retarded. I just my eyes.But I’ve seen non-black(even white people) have hair issuses. But it tends to be geared more towards hair color. There’s this weird borderline self-hate thing with bleach their hair.

  • S. Kat

    Word. But, in the meantime, it was such a boon!!

  • S. Kat

    I agree on all fronts, including giving poor Gabourey a break.

  • grateful

    You wouldn’t understand.

  • PeeWee

    Esperanza’s hair is always in a fro, so that ain’t news…

    Viola looked AMAZING to me, I absolutely loved everything about the way she looked last night, copper colored twa, green plunging dress and all. I hope she never puts that damn road kill on her head again hahah

  • Maitefa Angaza

    Great piece, Britni! Viola and Esperanza (and yes, even Chris) made statements last night without uttering a word about hair. But their messages will resound with our children who need to know that they can be beautiful and successful as God/nature made them. And thank you for refuting that tired refrain of, “It’s just hair.” :) Problems don’t go away when we keep our head in the sand. A film I co-produced on this topic “In Our Heads About Our Hair” sold out the largest screening room at BAM last week and the Q&A and was on fire! Apparently this matters to some…

  • CaramelBeauty

    I cannot rave enough about how Viola looked. She was absolutely gorgeous this whole season of awards, every gown she wore was on point. But this time the hair just sent her look into the stratosphere!!!!! She actually looks ten to twenty years younger without the wigs and weaves!!!! Kudos to her!!! LOVED IT!!!!!!

    Now the other girl from the help needs to do something with hers because she looks very matronly for her age!

  • bk chick

    first off…yes!! Viola looks soooo much better..eons better…with her “TWA” than the tired wigs..although at least her wigs are not as bad as some other starletts with fake tresses…

    As much as I was always the person to switch from natural to pressed whenever I wanted, I recently went natural for 3months straight…first time ever…and it feels sooo empowering…the fact that I even felt the way I felt means, for me at least, that it really isn’t just hair

  • sli

    “But because images have power, that picture of Viola Davis looking absolutely stunning with her polished dark brown skin and short kinky ‘fro will live on and inspire young black girls forever.”

    Yes! Viola looked absolutely beautiful.

  • Islandista

    I know it’s complex – lawd knows it’s complex when it comes to black women’s hair but in this instance it’s really not.

    Viola’s wigs were dreadful…dreadful! Just sitting there plopped on top of her beauty like a squatter.

    Her natural hair looks so much better that it’s a no-brainer really. When I saw it in the LA Times, it was like “why doesn’t she just wear it like this all the time?” It’s so obvious and I’m glad she did it, just for purely shallow, aesthetic reasons.

    I’m glad for the deeper, political ones too but mostly I’m just glad she looked great.

  • Nadia

    I’d kill somebody for that dress Viola was wearing…

  • Ayanna J

    We can rejoice when she doesnt have to wear the wig for a role.

    She looked beautiful. The coloring was great and I’m happy she’s getting noticed for it as well as her talent.

  • JaeBee

    Can dyed hair really be considered natural? I’m not trying to be fresh, but how is it that you can still consider yourself “natural” if you use one chemical on your hair over another?

  • BeautyIAM

    I am salivating at the mouth just looking at these two. They look GORGEOUS :D It makes me so happy see black women looking sexy and beautiful with natural hair. I can’t wait until natural hair starts to take over the world. I could not stop saying how amazingly beautiful Viola looked in that photo shoot a few weeks ago. I was beyond offended that it has taken some of us this long to see her beauty in such a great light.

    Esperanza is just a beautiful, talented, and sexy woman. She is such a genius at what she does which makes me like her even more.

  • African Mami

    Viola can do no wrong in my eyes. This is a fab actress. She better than Meryl too! I’ve been following Viola’s career long before she became fodder for Oscar…and she is INNNNNNNNNCREDIBLE. She was ROBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBED at the Oscars! She has ALWAYS been robbed. Her hairrrr is beautiful….I’m a STAN!

  • Gloria

    ummmm. I respect these lovely ladies for embracing natural hair…but honestly. It IS just hair…

  • Felicia Shelton

    Someone asked how could Ms. Davis’s hair be considered natural when she has dyed her hair? Um, the moisturizers, shampoos, conditioners, etc. that you use on your hair are full of chemicals. The soap you use to wash your body and hands are full of chemicals. Stop being a “natural nazi” please. Un-relaxed or relaxed, your hair style is your personal choice, just make sure it’s clean and to YOUR liking. It’s just hair people.

  • lulu

    black women put too much focus on hair and neglect other things. gabby’s hair wasn’t the best – but i listened to what she said – and i liked it

  • Marti Parham

    Yes, her decision to rock her natural hair definitely made a statement (and news from the white media heads too). When she first debuted the do for the cover of LA Times Magazine I was surprised and pleased. Later that week when she appeared on “The View” wearing another wig I was a little sad and had a feeling that she wasn’t ready to accept who she really is. But at the Essence Awards and at the Oscars she was bold and fierce with it. I was very proud that she accepted her truth. She will serve as an inspiration to many.

  • minna k.

    I would have done a different look on Viola for that night. I think they got the styling perfect with the LA times photo shoot ( which was a really fun look for her. Bold sculptured a little steam punk), and she should find her comfort with this type of edgy existentialism.

    Holla at Tilda Swinton for example. A little Haider Ackermann? Gary Grahm, anyone?

    Especially with that TWA. For better or worse it is a gutsy move, she needed to go all the way with it sartorially. She can (and should) pull it off.

    The green thing was a bit too prom dress-y.

  • Vee

    I love her natural hair it is beautiful!!

  • Freebee33

    Maybe it’s not about some ‘statement’. Perhaps she just felt like wearing her natural hair out that night maybe the next day she wore a wig. Why? Because she can. As women we have the ability to switch up our hair if it pleases us.

    I think if a woman chooses to be natural, dyed, relaxed, pressed, weaved/wigged it is her business. I really wish we could move on from something as trivial as hair and focus on other things in our community that are way more important.

  • Arie

    Viola looked stunning! And I applaud Esperanza for getting that fro right and tight! My fro is always comes out looking not quite right. For women in general there’s a point where edgy and different can go absolutely wrong. I don’t care what color you are if your hair is on point and you feel good about it, it shows.



  • Sondra Jean

    Viola and Esperanza made statements… an American woman of African descent…..from a particular era….. it’s NOT JUST HAIR……

  • Will

    What’s the big deal about hair? I’ve been natural for two years now and do enjoy it, but I enjoyed having relaxed hair also. A woman’s hair doesn’t make her weak nor strong. Enjoy what makes you feel elevated and the most you. We change with time and sometimes our desire and taste for hairstyles change with it. It’s no live or die situation. Enjoy life and all the different opportunities it offers, whether it’s being natural, having extensions or wearing a relaxed hair style. Let’s not get stuck in things that really doesn’t matter in the end. Let’s learn to celebrate our differences and stay clear of comparisons to the point of making someone feel bad for their own personal choice. Women are beautiful in all shapes, sizes and hairstyles. Peace and love to all of our ladies out there!

  • Simone L

    Listen…to me, my hair means something but at the end of the day it’s just hair. Let’s not downplay what others feel about their own hair. Viola and everybody else looked amazing and I was glad to see that these women did not feel the need to cover their natural hair to fit it.But…like I said…hair is just that, whether it’s fried, dyed or laid to the side. That’s it. Poof!!! I’m off.

  • Jai

    Wendy shouldn’t be talking about anyone’s hair when she hides under a wig 24/7!!!!

    Is she ashamed of her hair?

  • Freebee33

    Thank you!

  • Whatever

    Hair for women of all races is a multi billion dollar industry. It clearly isn’t “just hair.” While I agree it should be… it’s not. Hair will be just hair when a black woman can walk into any board room with Esperanza’s afro.

  • Whatever


  • JaeBee

    Calm down Felicia! I wasn’t trying to be a “natural hair nazi”, especially as I don’t have “natural” hair. Frankly, I couldn’t care less how Ms. Davis (or really anyone) chooses to style her hair, but I find it rather interesting that the definition of “natural” hair is so fluid.

  • sli


    I agree

  • Velma

    Love it, love it, love it! Yes, it makes a statement that not all of us have fake hair that we wear day in and out.

  • nepanthe

    took the words right out of my mouth!!!

  • 12

    Can Viola please cover those boobs of hers for once? They look like a greased-up mess. Just no. Good job on the hair though.

  • Mia

    The term really isn’t all that fluid. Her hair is natural because it is not permanently altered with a relaxer. She is color treated, but her hair texture is in a natural state. The term natural refers to the texture of the hair.

  • df

    whether or not they MEANT it to be, it’s still a statement because it’s not the norm at all.

  • DolphinsandPuppies

    I’m laughing at all these people saying “it’s just hair” when black women have “donated” over a billion dollars to the hair industry. It’s more than “just hair” when black women are neglecting bills and working out so their hair can look fly.

    If it was truly “just hair” then all of us would just wear our natural hair texture. There’s a history behind all of this. Let’s be honest here…..

  • smm

    @Dolphinsandpuppies: Very true…Which is why I am getting my chuckle on with you!

  • gryph

    …people still watch the oscars?

  • Nappyco

    I heard more comments about Chris Rock’s hair than about Viola or Esperanza’s.

  • TheBestAnonEver, Part 2

    I watch white women on youtube who obsess about their hair. Some women care about their hair more than others. I am going to honest, I never paid much attention to my hair when it was relaxed – it was just hair and really no big deal. But, I fell in love with my natural hair and I am obsessed with keeping it healthy and nice. It is no longer just hair to me. It is now one of my life’s loves.

  • twee

    It becomes “more than just hair” with us due to a past. Even when I wore my hair straight, I don’t think I’ve ever had a time of not linking my hair. My styles were popular to the culture of that time. BUT I did have a mom who had a beautiful head of hair that would not go out of the house without a wig on. Because she was told her hair is a problem. She’d always say that her dad being mixed with Indian, still unclear if that is Indian or Native American, the boys got the “good hair” and the girls got the “nappy hair” so the idea of rocking her nappy hair was crazy and so that carried on in many black families and to this day women will not wear their natural hair texture due to seeing their hair as a problem and a perm, weave, wig etc is the solution.

    I can’t wait until it’s the norm for black women to wear their hair natural to the point it isn’t headline news status, but to downplay it knowing our history (unless it’s simply not your story) is just ignorance, even if it doesn’t tie to your personal experience. And people make a false assumption that their “get over it and move on” nature embodies strength where it’s a hard heart that is tired to hearing certain realities at best.

  • leonard smalls

    Interesting comment; however, allow me to add the following:

    1. Misunderstanding – Your comment that “[i]t is just hair” arguably reflects a profound misunderstanding the relationship that women have with their hair. Specifically, a woman’s hair is connected with her sense of beauty; hence, it is a proxy that one may use to gauge a Colored woman’s love for herself.

    2. Power – Colored people’s beauty standards possibly are a source of tremendous power where they to adhere to their natural locks. Be not mislead, love for one’s natural Colored self arguably shields that person from the propaganda of alien groups that imply that the various Colored phenotypes are somehow distasteful and unattractive.

    3. Announcement – Viola’s “coming out” was an announcement to the world that Colored people have their own beauty standards and that standard is in-line with their various phenotypes.

    Carry on.

  • TheBestAnonEver, Part 2

    I am always amused by the ‘it’s just hair brigade’. I mean no one ever says “it’s just eyes” or it’s just teeth” or “it’s just my finger”. We have hair for a reason and it plays an important role in on our bodies.

  • ddd

    I am all for natural hair, but I did not like how she had it out and not neatly styled. She could have pinned it up or something and still be reppin natural hair but in a classy way after all this was a formal event. I think this is a reason why some women don’t go natural because of how other women portray it. Sorry but there was nothing flattering about that hair.

  • Adelle (the Fashionista Lab)

    I know this is a bit of old news now, but it’s still important. In a culture where the standard of beauty is still so narrow (pretty = light skin + straight hair), it’s really important for icons to help broaden this definition. Especially for impressionable young girls that need to see examples of different women in order to be more comfortable with themselves. Personally, I had a lightbulb moment when I realized that nobody who looks like me will ever be selling toothpaste on TV… And then I realized I was ok with that.

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