The Problem With Natural Hair On TV

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PHOTO: COURTESY OF ABC.

An article was recently published about the rise of Natural Hair among black women on TV. Below is the featured article. What are your thoughts?  Is there a conscious awareness connected to the sudden surge of natural hairstyles from Blacks? Do you think it matters what state the hair is in?

The Problem with Natural Hair on TV

by Taylor Bryant

“If you tuned in to “How to Get Away with Murder” recently, you know that Viola Davis has spent some screen time without her wig on. It proved not only to be a raw and emotional episode, but it displayed a rare moment: a Black woman with natural hair on a mainstream TV network.

Turn back the clock 20 years, and you’d be hard-pressed to see a Black actress with hair that was anything other than just-got-out-of-the-salon laid. Flip through the tube in 1995, and you might find: the ladies from Living Single, all with straight strands (with some weaves thrown in), the freshly blowdried ‘do’s of Laura and Harriette on Family Matters, and Gina and Pam’s permed-out hair on Martin. Fast-forward a couple more years, and there’s some more representation with a two-for-one curly appearance in the form of the Mowry twins onSister, Sister. But, even their coils were straightened later in the series. As writer, fashion expert, and image activist Michaela Angela Davis points out, non-curly hairstyles that dominated the small screen in the ’90s were very much a sign of the times. “We were in a very conservative moment,” she says. “Relaxers were easier to get, easier to use, weaves came in…and getting straight hair just got more accessible.”

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While we’ve seen Black women’s natural hair on the small screen before the present-day era — these kinds of landmark moments date back to Cicely Tyson’s ’60s role in East Side/West Side — it’s becoming more common, and the new movement has been a long time coming.

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PHOTO: COURTESY OF ABC.

What does this modern evolution look like? Actress Tracee Ellis Ross has worn her curly crown in all its glory since 2000 on the (sorely missed) show Girlfriends, and continues to do so today, as the lead actress on ABC’s Black-ish. “I’m very conscious of how I wear my hair on the show, and yet it’s the way I wear my hair as Tracee,” she told Entertainment Weekly in December. “You hire me, you hire my hair, and you hire my ass. It’s all coming with me.” And, who could forget Davis’ wig-removal scene in earlier episodes of HTGAWM, which spurred many a think piece? According to Kent Nelson, the show’s hair-department head, Davis’ character Annalise is “unmasking” herself. “The armor and mask that she goes to work in every day is coming off,” he says. It signifies vulnerability, intimacy, and a shedding of society’s expectations. Which brings us to the problem with natural hair on TV right now: Yes, there are a lot more instances of it, but the way characters with it are depicted is not necessarily positive.

Take the Netflix series Orange Is the New Black, where the characters embrace, arguably, the widest range of textured styles in a series today (with the exception of Laverne Cox’s character, who, let’s be honest, would look fabulous with any style). There’s cornrows on Taystee, a short TWA style on Poussey, and, of course, Crazy Eyes’ signature bantu knots. “We really haven’t seen that many characters [like the OITNB ladies] on TV before,” says lead hairstylist Angel DeAngelis. “I think that’s why the show is so relatable and popular; because these prisoners look like people that are out there.”

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