By Jamilah Felix
Published: October 17th, 2018
“Didn’t the hum of the clippers sound like the voice of Harriet Tubman calling you to freedom?”
“Yeah, but she lost her voice when I woke up.”
The notion that your entire self-worth is wrapped up in your hair, may or may not be a familiar one to some, but it’s certainly one that controls the lives of black women– whether we permit it to or not. The plot of the film version of Nappily Ever After (check out the book version) rests on age-old Eurocentric beauty standards. These standards actively ruin black women’s sense of self by enabling non-black people to look at a black woman’s natural state and immediately deem her unworthy.
Violet’s big chop came out of her lowest moment. In a two and a half minute uncut scene, Violet grabs an electric razor and begins buzzing off everything she has ever known. Actress Sanaa Lathan (who plays Violet) famously shaved her actual head for the performance, and as ‘Netflix-y’ as this movie is, it’s a wonderful one from a veteran actress.
After shaving her head, Violet goes through stages where she is completely ignored for her new look, her credibility is tested, and she begins attracting new kinds of people. When Violet was confident in her straight hair, the eyes of men around the office would literally follow her (SAG cards all around for these lauding extras!) Later, when she finds a new self in her new hair (or lack of it), they follow her again – after initially disrespecting her. The film has an underlying message about the objectification of black women that is never clearly realized. But, just as with the Eurocentric beauty standard mention, there are a few points in this film that are never fully fleshed out. I wonder what a Netflix show for Nappily Ever After might have looked like– crafted by a black femme director, black writers, and black producers, of course.
I was annoyed when Violet jumped out of her relationship with Clint and right into a new one with Will, but the relationship with Will’s daughter is what needed to be groomed during this transition, so I respect the way it was handled. Violet gained more than a boyfriend– she gained a true friendship with Will’s daughter, and was able to begin living out her dreams. Her relationship with Zoe, and not with Will, that inspires her to find herself, and to be happy with the person she finds. This is also why I don’t believe that this movie should be categorized as a romantic comedy– unless we’re talking about Violet falling in love with herself.
Focusing on Violet and Will’s relationship and even focusing on Violet’s newfound confidence due to her big chop are harmful images for black women to see. The film harps on the notion that black women who have not embraced their natural hair are inferior to those who have. Black women should have the freedom to decide how they want to wear their hair without judgement, side eyes, or random hands reaching out to touch it. I was honestly overjoyed when Violet (spoiler alert)………. didn’t end up with either man. But rather with a new confidence and a new friend. That is how you live “Nappily Ever After.”