On the 21st of September my daughter and I snugged up in bed to watch Nappily Ever After, 2018, a Netflix original. The film, directed by Haifaa Al-Mansour, had already been added to ‘My List’ the day the trailer was released because somehow, I already knew I would love it, representation plus actual relation, of course I would love it. Sanaa Lathan, produces, and stars in the film as Violet Jones — I am pretty sure any and almost every black girl can relate to Violet when it comes to the politics of hair, and the expectation of perfection. How many of us have to think of what our mothers will say should we decide to change or cut our hair, even in this day and age? Worrying that cutting your hair equates to automatic homosexuality? It’s a lot.
We are introduced to Violet as a symbol of her mother’s pride and pursuit to perfection. Sadly though, the idea of perfection is deeply intertwined to living up to the standards of white beauty. Violet as a child is hot-combed to make her hair as straight as the white kids. And while they play and swim, Violet is ordered to move away from the pool area lest the water restores her natural ‘imperfect’ texture. Thank goodness for some rebellion because instead of moving away, she jumps in. But this brief moment of rebellion and liberation was not enough to save her from the shackles of white perfection and standards of beauty. A few scenes later we find Violet contently conforming to her mother Pauletta, played by Lynn Whitfield, flat-ironing her hair. As much as we have moved on from certain constraints of beauty and mental oppression as a people, I found it problematic that, even though Violet and her mother were not pursuing perfection to be accepted by whiteness particularly, they were now doing it to be acceptable to/for men. You lose one oppressor just to gain another, SMH. Had the scene been motivated because a girl just wants to slay and show off some length, I would’ve been all for it — but doing it for male acceptance and validation does not spell out liberation. But of course it had to happen this way and watching the film further reveals the why.
I recall in university when I used to rock my afro, I felt so happy and free especially when it rained because I never had to hide. And you know in Cape Town it can be four seasons in one day, but the weather forecast never used to phase me. Whether my fro was blown out or not, getting caught in the rain was actually fun. Although it was fun for me, many other black girls did not quite share the same sentiments, similar to Violet. Whether they too had fros, or maybe rocking a weave or their straightened hair — whatever it may be, rain was never a favourite, and I understood why. Much as for most of those years I was anti-weaves and actively promoting going natural, I understood why it wasn’t everyone’s go-to option. In my case though, I was fortunate because my mom didn’t outright impose her hair opinions on me, and more specifically, my dad used to emphasise black pride, accepting and embracing oneself in all their glorious blackness. I took that to heart. However, I understood that maintaining natural black hair was/ is admin, hence it’s not everyone’s go-to option. As the years went on, I also learnt more about protective styling and maximising hair growth. This made me realise that as much as I hated weaves particularly, most of the girls that used to rock weaves were doing it to protect their natural hair underneath, and maximise its growth. I’ve digressed a bit but my point is, I can’t imagine having to check the weather before I confirm my plans the way Violet did. But fate is a funny thing because home girl still couldn’t avoid the water.
In my last year of university, I stopped shoving my opinions about going natural and ditching the weaves down people’s throats. I accepted that people can do whatever the heck they want to with their hair, it is theirs after all. Through more open-minded conversation, I came to accept and conclude that the girls who got weaves to protect their natural hair underneath were hella smart, but I obviously couldn’t let go of the fact that other girls got weaves because they genuinely believed they looked better with a weave than their own hair. That’s that mental oppression showing its arse again. Similarly to Violet, when her hair is mistakenly damaged with relaxer, she opts to “get the best hair money can buy” as opposed to trimming off the damaged bits and still rocking her own hair. What’s more alarming is how this scene reminded me of so many clips I’ve seen online with girls damn near crying when their boyfriends prank them by fake cutting off a section of their hair. There is drama, tears and threats to tell the mother, among other things… Made me wonder, is black hair, natural or straightened, only acceptable at a certain length? Is this the reason why every black girl and their mama hate ‘the awkward length’ phase? If we are in a process of accepting ourselves, it has to be everything, different lengths and different textures, everything. Anyway, Violet gets a weave thinking her boyfriend of two years is going to propose but instead, she gets a puppy. Sigh. All that stress and homegirl doesn’t even get the ring. I’m tired.
Black girls going blonde has always been interesting to witness. I’ve never enquired but I have always wondered if they don’t care about the hair damaging happening because of all that blenching, or is it not that deep? Times I’ve dyed my hair I’ve done darker or deep red. Going lighter has never been a realistic option, and coincidentally, all the hair stylists I’ve been to have always been quick to shut that idea down times it has tried to creep up. This also made me wonder, do blonde black girls bleach their own hair at home, or do their stylists just agree to it. I don’t know. Anyway, moving away from the technicalities, colouring one’s own hair is a process of self-discovery in itself I rate. It’s like trying on different pairs of heels until you find the perfect pair. And I’m all for figuring one’s self out. Full disclosure, I have thought about dying my hair silver. I genuinely feel like my soul is too old for my body and these young years are taking too long to end so I can finally flourish, lol. I rate I’ll start feeling like my age at 35, nine more years to go till I reach my prime.
The scene we see Violet shaving off her hair is one of the most powerful and emotion-filled scenes I’ve seen in a long while. I felt shivers as I watched and understood exactly what she was going through — the freedom, the fear, the happiness, and sadness, all intertwined. I loved it. And even though I have gone bald more than once or twice, I completely relate to the mixed emotions that happen during that process, more-so, the decline in self-confidence when you have to reenter the world without a strand of hair in sight. And like the cancer ladies in the film say, “you have to own it”. Going bald is a statement that requires one to be baldly confident in one’s self. It’s a transformation and sort of rebirth that gives light to sentiments such as “a woman who cuts her hair is about to change her life” — Coco Chanel. I love how the film accurately depicts the tension between going through the process of changing your life, regrowth [life and hair-wise], and still have some attachments to your former self and former life. Luckily for Violet, she is soon reminded that even though she finally got the ring, she had transformed into a better version of herself, and being that person authentically was compromised by carrying on into a wedding/ marriage that threatened to regress her coming into being. If it was never about the hair, why does she need to straighten it Clint (played by Ricky Whittle) why bro? And since when do you, all of a sudden, need everything to be perfect when that was the very same reason you wouldn’t marry her in the first place? Don’t mess with confused men ya’ll, just don’t do it.
My favourite thing about this film is, once Violet has figured that Clint isn’t the one, normal working formula Hollywood makes you think Will, played be Lyriq Bent, is automatically for the win, but not quite. Violet doesn’t pick any man to validate her existence or being. So even though we love Will, and appreciate his love for the more authentic, real, and natural version of Violet — we LOVE the fact that she choses herself first way more. Violet proudly owns her life and unapologetically thrives at her craft. This not only makes her more desirable, but it also represents a deeply appreciated perception of the black woman. You don’t need hair or a man to define or validate you. Honour yourself and honour your craft, the rest will sort itself out.
I thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of this film and would highly recommend it to anyone and everyone. It’s not everyday you watch an authentic and positive representation of black women — from the hot-comb kitchen scene to the clippers bathroom scene, a lot of black girls can relate. Shout out to you Trisha R. Thomas for blessing us with this gem.
[All images sourced via Google]