‘ Bad Hair’ weaves scares and satire

USA TODAY International Edition - - LIFE - Rasha Ali

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

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

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 be­ing over­looked for other can­di­dates. Her ex- su­per­model new boss ( Vanessa Wil­liams) fixates on Anna’s nat­u­ral hair and let’s it be known that “sis­ters get fired for less than that ev­ery day. Mu­sic peo­ple have cer­tain ex­pec­ta­tions and my girls need to flow freely.” Anna goes on to “flow 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 flick: The film is scary be­cause it plays into the re­al­i­ties of Black folks nav­i­gat­ing a world cen­tered around Euro­cen­tric stan­dards of beauty.

“To me, what is in­sid­i­ous goes be­yond just skin color,” Simien says. “The feel­ing that Anna is per­fectly qual­ified 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 are de­nied op­por­tu­ni­ties for the way their hair nat­u­rally grows out of their head. It was just last year that Cal­i­for­nia be­came the first 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 film speaks to all the ways peo­ple of color have been told they need to change them­selves to fit in. She hopes the movie will spark con­ver­sa­tions about the “small ways we sell out to our­selves.”

“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 difficult and some­times it’s not a straight task,” says Wil­liams, adding that the film uses hor­ror to tackle some­thing so many women do to fit in. “It’s a hu­man story.”

Though she no longer tries to al­ter her­self for oth­ers, Lor­raine says that 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.

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.”


Vir­gie ( Lav­erne Cox, stand­ing) gives Anna ( Elle Lor­raine) a weave that has a mind of its own in “Bad Hair.”


Though a killer weave is the fo­cus of “Bad Hair,” di­rec­tor Justin Simien has noth­ing against weaves.

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