“Black hair is both stigmatized and celebrated,” according to the “The Hair Tales” trailer. It’s also called “resilient.” The question not addressed in the docuseries promo: when will it be accepted in Hollywood?
Black women’s hair has long been a popular topic before it took center stage in the Tracee Ellis Ross-led documentary series, and that discussion hasn’t necessarily translated into mainstream media acceptance. But, according to hairstylists Fesa Nu and Felicia Leatherwood, the move has prompted an attitude shift within Black Hollywood as artists have stopped seeking validation from the powers that be and instead are choosing to simply wear the hair that makes them happiest.
Most known for her work with sister duo Chloe and Halle Bailey, Nu recognizes the strength of the next generation of star power in making change. While Nu describes Chloe as always loving her hair during their time together, the “Treat Me” singer opens up in the docuseries about her own journey from young actor to acting and singing phenom with a lesser-known story.
Chloe’s hair has been loc’d all of her life, but in the sixth episode of the Hulu series titled “Deeply Rooted,” she shares how her parents were told to change their daughters’ hair if they wanted them to book more on-camera work. Their solution for a brief time was to hide their locs under a wig.
It was one of the first times she felt pressure from the industry to alter herself for the consumption of others. But, the singer always opted not to conform to those pressures, despite the calls from those within the industry.
“For me, even though I would hear certain comments about changing who I was or changing the hair, it never really connected,” said Chloe in the episode. “It’s all I’ve ever known, so I didn’t really think there was anything different.”
That attitude was instilled in both Chloe and her sister at a young age due to their parents’ insistence to keep their children’s spirits intact as they navigated such a daunting industry. Though, perhaps it shouldn’t be considered so revolutionary that these two young stars admire the hair they’ve always known.
Following the start of the entertainment industry’s racial reckoning, Nu explains more of Black Hollywood’s players decided to reclaim the reigns on their image, calling the shots on their own hair and makeup looks, and calling out the industry’s shortcomings. In turn, the industry must learn to adapt to a new status quo set by those who choose to live with the hairstyles they enjoy.
“Because of the way the world is moving, and how blackness is becoming more and more of a forefront –– just basically not giving a fuck about what Hollywood feels –– [Hollywood] has to adjust,” she says.
But change takes time, and while there are more styles represented on screen with locs and afro puffs, Nu says “they aren’t completely adjusted to the hairstyles, the afros because if they were, you would see so much more of that in Hollywood, and you really don’t.”
Save for the few stars like Lamorne Morris and Taraji P. Henson, who’ve publicly spoken out about their hairdresser horror stories while on set, the hairstylist isn’t too convinced that the tides will completely change for good.
“It takes for certain celebrities to have a powerful voice and speak up about it,” says Nu. “Hollywood goes with whatever’s really trending or whatever is really not going to get backlash and things like that.”
Hairstylist Felicia Leatherwood –– whose clientele includes Issa Rae, Ava DuVernay and Nicole Ari Parker, to name a few –– believes Hollywood has a misunderstanding about the overall argument, adding that the fight (which is about more than just hair) seems to get lost in translation when the powers that be hear certain protests about changing the idea of what constitutes as “good hair.” Even further, she describes the small wins Black stars have received in recent years as little more than crumbs given as an attempt to satiate the even larger hunger.
“I think they’re [Hollywood] like ‘we’re not going to make this a fight like, of all the things we’ll just give them that,’” she said. “They don’t really understand what our fight is half the time like what are what are we fighting about now.”
“They don’t know that we’re really just fighting for survival as human beings that happen to be melanated and so a lot of what people consider to be nuances or a lot of little things that we pump our fists about, don’t seem as big to other people,” said the stylist.
U.S. Representative Ayanna Pressley, who also appeared in the documentary series and discussed her experience living with alopecia, has taken the argument to Congress’s main stage with the passage of the CROWN Act earlier this year, effectively banning discrimination “based on hair textures and hairstyles that are commonly associated with a particular race or national origin.”
Talking about hair discrimination on such a large platform may have cast a light on the larger issues regarding race, ethnicity, and religion –– and the people who have been marginalized because of them. The passion behind such a charge is what gives Leatherwood hope that things can look better in the future.
“It’s an emotion that is inside of what we’re asking for, or what we’re griping about. There’s something emotional in that. So I’m hoping that Hollywood is to the root of what some of our stances are about and not just kind of pacify it,” Leatherwood said.
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