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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  1. Ok, so I don’t typically comment but I have to say something about this.
    Could it be that some of these women actually like to straighten their hair. Does it always have to be that are brainwashed and trying to live up to the European standard. I mean what is wrong with
    Celebrating diversity. That’s the beauty of black women or hair can be styled a million ways
    That doesn’t make you any less black if you have straight/weaved hair or more black if you are natural. This article sounds so judgmental and this is coming from someone who is natural. I don’t go around policing what other women do with their hair. If they want to wear natural or permed/ weave more power to them. It doesn’t necessarily mean they are ashamed of their heritage or want to be white.

  2. Sandy

    I don’t get why people are so bothered with what other women do to their hair. It’s quite hilarious really. No, the actresses don’t wear weaves & relax their hair because they’re afraid to go ‘natural’. They do it because that is what THEY want. Why can’t people get that? So now every black woman who’s had relaxed hair wants to be white? maya angelou, oprah, jill scott, goapele & michelle Obama all want to be white? Since most dark-skinned women (like me) have dark lips, are we also trying to be white when we wear red lipsticks? & do the people with natural hair who dye it brown, blond or wine also want to be white? I’ve had natural hair on & off & love it’s texture. I’m now relaxed & love it’s texture as well. When I was natural, I used to wear straight weaves from time to time to switch it up. Now that I’m relaxed, I wear afro weaves from time to time & I do other ‘naturalish’ styles like puffy twists (with extensions) & crochet braids to get 4a/4b hair. I love the versatility of black hair. We should all celebrate that.

  3. Fancypants

    Exactly Sandy!

    I’m relaxed but I do braid outs, wear braids, kinky textured wigs, straight styles, straight wigs, etc. As long as your hair is healthy you can do whatever you like. Black hair is versatile. We should love that fact! My white collegues are actually jealous of my hair because I can switch it up and they can’t. The only ones who judge our hair is US, whether it’s natural or straight.

    Also, all black natural hair isn’t kinky textured. My mom’s hair is actually on the straight/wavy side and my husband’s hair is straight as a pin.

    And PLEASE can we stop saying black women relax their hair to look like white hair. Black relaxed hair is NOTHING like white hair. Even when straight it still has some texture.

    • SAMURAI36

      See, this is why I question some of the choices that women in general, but especially Black women, make.

      “Relaxed hair is healthy…”


      Didn’t you see GOOD HAIR??

      The part where Chris Rock was talking to the scientist, & he showed how the chemicals in relaxers will eat thru a tin can?


      The reality is, most of the cosmetic things women do to themselves, age health-threatening.

      •Colored contacts = the dye therein can cause serious eye problems.

      •High Heel shoes = cause problems with your feet, legs, & back.

      •Fake nails = the acrylic is one of the most destructive chemicals on the entire planet.

      •Make up = eats away at the skin on your face, making you look old before your time. Alot of it is made from the secretions of insects. So you’re rubbing bug shot on your face, & you think you’re cute. Nice….

      When I see a woman all done up, with all the makeup, nails, fake/relaxed hair, crazy high heels, fancy expensive clothes, etc etc, I usually walk in the opposite direction, because all I see is a walking Neurosis, who has no sense of Self, outside of what the White man has created for her.

    • Pseudonym

      I don’t know why you had to make this an “especially black women” issue. Women of all racial backgrounds do all of the above- including straightening their hair (they just use the formaldehyde-containing Brazilian blow-out instead of the sodium hydroxide-containing relaxer).

      Give the anti-black woman sentiments a rest already.

    • Pseudonym

      Also, ancient Egyptians did all of the above (including straightening their hair), so drastic measures to alter a woman’s appearance is not some new, European thing. From the way we developed as people/human society, men have always been valued for their ability to provide and women have been valued for their physical appearance.

      Also, if you make that rash of a snap judgement based on a woman wearing makeup and high heels, then it’s best you walk in the opposite direction b/c your character (which is a lot more important than physical appearance) does not sound like a good one.