Black Women in Hollywood

It’s award season – which means those of us into fashion and beauty get to see our favorite stars pull out all of the stops. The accessories, the dresses and last, but certainly not least, the hair, takes center stage. In the midst of always tackling race, culture and politics, this is my time to unwind and just enjoy Fashion Police.

But things like race and culture always find a way of coming out of nowhere and biting you in the ass, don’t they?

With the exception of Solange Knowles, Teyonah Parris and Viola Davis, I couldn’t help but notice that in the midst of the Natural Hair (R)evolution, Black women on the red carpet are still clinging to relaxers, wigs and weaves when it’s time to “dress-up.” Not that there is anything wrong with rocking the hair extension or chemicals of your choice, but it kind of becomes problematic when you choose to do so to conform to the beauty standards of an industry that has historically and consistently marginalized Black women and tramples over any semblance of our natural beauty.

It’s almost as if we put on our “good hair” for special company.

It’s long been the norm in many circles that straight hair is synonymous with better, and one of those circles just happens to be Hollywood, a space that more and more Black woman are inhabiting – as long as they play by Eurocentric beauty rules. Perhaps we only have to look at the 9-year-old star of Beasts Of The Southern Wild, Quvenzhane Wallis, to realize how deep the rabbit hole goes. For a film that takes place in an impoverished Bayou community, an Afro is enough, but under the big lights of fame, only a press-n-curl will do.

If natural ‘fros are taboo in Hollywood, then dreads must be considered the Kiss of Death.

When it comes to natural hair in the white dominated entertainment world, dreads are the undeniable manifestation of  “otherness,” manipulated to define blackness as a whole, instead of an organic extension of self that flows from patience, diligence and strength. Perhaps it is that they are too powerful. Could it be that a woman with dreads is a story in motion, unable to be constrained by a simple plot or fictional character? Or is it something as simple as dreadlocks are not derived from whiteness, so their beauty is not understood and therefore not valued? And does that lack of awareness lead to natural black actresses avoiding even the idea of rocking a natural look that can not be tamed with a hot comb?

This is not to cast judgment on any of these women for their hair choices or the choices they make for their daughters, but here’s the thing:  natural hair should be a choice. It shouldn’t cease to be an option in an industry that leads the trend on what’s considered beautiful in America. Straight hair should be a choice, not forced assimilation into a dominant culture that can’t effectively replicate our uniqueness, so, instead, they create an environment in which we feel vulnerable and awkward for embracing it.

In an interview with Afrobella, the always stunning Sanaa Lathan discusses the lack of hair diversity in Hollywood, saying that while she is natural (and by natural, she means chemical-free), she straightens her hair for roles. Even though Lathan applauds the natural movement and the beauty of the Afro, she, along with countless other Black actresses, wait and hope Hollywood catches up to the trend, thus making it acceptable. Now, I would never insist that any woman go natural to make a socio-political statement, that’s not my place or my business, but if she feels that way, then why let fear of not fitting in, or being “off-trend” stop her from expressing herself?

The words that I strive to live by come from Albert Camus: “The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.”

Maybe those are words that out natural-loving sisters should embrace in an industry that values conformity over authenticity.

Be free — and the rest will fall into place.

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