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‘Sisters get fired for less than that’: How ‘Bad Hair’ shows the horrors of Black hair

  • October 22, 2020

Black hair is beautiful, but Black hair can also be horrifying. 

“Dear White People” creator Justin Simien tackles those complexities in his horror comedy “Bad Hair” (streaming Friday on Hulu) by way of a killer weave (literally and figuratively).

The ’80s-era horror satire stars Elle Lorraine as an ambitious Los Angeles woman named Anna working to get ahead in the image-conscious world of music television, but she keeps getting overlooked for other candidates. Her ex-supermodel new boss (Vanessa Williams) fixates on Anna’s natural hair and let’s it be known that “sisters get fired for less than that every day. Music people have certain expectations and my girls need to flow freely.” Anna goes on to “flow freely” and gets a weave installed that begins to have a mind of its own.

However, it’s not the killer weave that makes Simien’s movie a horror flick: The film is scary because it plays into the realities of Black folks navigating a world centered around Eurocentric standards of beauty. 

Anna's (Elle Lorraine, center) new boss fixates on Anna's natural hair and lets it be known that sisters get fired for less than that every day.

“To me, what is insidious goes beyond just skin color,” Simien says. “The feeling that Anna is perfectly qualified to do amazing things at the company, but people just can’t picture her in the position until she gets this hair … unconsciously, so many of us have played into that script for such a long time. Eurocentrism is the texture of your hair, it’s the manner that you speak, it’s the way that you dress, it’s the art that you collect, it’s the references that you make.

Though “Bad Hair” is set in 1989, its themes are still relevant 31 years later, Simien says, noting that people still get denied opportunities for the way their hair naturally grows out of their head. It was just last year that California became the first state to ban hair discrimination with the “Crown Act.”

“Even for people who just want to change their aesthetic, so many folks feel like they have to do it or they won’t be seen otherwise,” Simien says. “Hair is such a personal form of self expression, and women and men should be able to wear their hair however they want to without being reprimanded for it or made to feel less than because of that choice.”

While “Bad Hair” focuses on Anna trading in her natural hair for a straighter, sleeker look, Lorraine says the film speaks to all the ways people of color have been told they need to change themselves to fit in. She hopes the movie will spark conversations about the “small ways we sell out to ourselves.”

Though it's the killer weave that takes center stage in Bad Hair, Justin Simien isn't vilifying the weave itself.

“I thought I was making these small tweaks, but instead I’ve done so many that I’ve cut away at the core of myself,” Lorraine says. “Anna had everything she needed to be great, just no one saw it because they didn’t appreciate the package that it came in. I hope we also become more empowered in realizing what we bring to the table is good enough.”

Williams, who broke out in the entertainment industry herself in the ’80s, says it’s a “theme that never goes away.”

“If you want to succeed there are things that you have to do in order to do it, and sometimes they’re difficult and sometimes it’s not a straight task,” says Williams, adding that the film uses horror to tackle something so many women do to fit in. “It’s a human story.” 

Though she no longer tries to alter herself for others, Lorraine says in the past there have been times where she’s been told her “smile is too big” or she’s tried to “look a certain way to appease people,” even having dyed her hair blond and damaged it in the process.

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People of color have to “look up to so many images of white people” and are “constantly getting told that is what beauty looks like,” she says. “Whether it’s told to us directly or subliminally because we’re watching TV, because we’re driving down the street and seeing billboards of people who may not look like us.

“But I also think it’s changing. Our world is realizing that there is space for everyone and beauty comes in all shapes and sizes,” says Lorraine, adding that “Bad Hair” sheds light on the diversity within Black women. 

Though it’s the killer weave that takes center stage in “Bad Hair,” Simien isn’t vilifying the weave itself. He reminds us that the weave actually saves Anna on multiple occasions, keeping her safe from predators and helping her rise up the ranks at work.  

“The hair isn’t really good or bad,” Simien says. “It’s the fact that she didn’t fully have a conscious choice. She was denied that by the world she was trying to navigate.”

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