Let’s talk about Black hair in Hollywood

Image Source: Gabriel Silvério on Unsplash

There is a deep connection when it comes to Black women and our hair. Before we know how to walk or talk, we learn the different ways to style our hair. Personally, for most of my life I kept it straight with a flat iron or slicked back in a ponytail. Some women keep it natural with a cute fro and wash-and-go style. Others keep it convenient and low maintenance by trying a style of braids. Point is, black hair is a part of who we are. However, there seems to be an issue in Hollywood and entertainment where Black artists are not being provided hair artists that are knowledgeable about black hair.

This Hollywood problem has been going on for much longer than we thought, and Black actors and actresses are now starting to speak up about their personal experiences. Monique Coleman, best known for her character Taylor McKessie on High School Musical, opened up to Insider that the reason her character always wore headbands was because the hair stylists didn’t know how to do hers.

“We’ve grown a lot in this industry and we’ve grown a lot in representation and we’ve grown a lot in terms of understanding the needs of an African-American actress,” she said. “But the truth is, is that they had done my hair and they had done it very poorly in the front. And we had to start filming before I had a chance to fix it.”

Unfortunately this isn’t an uncommon occurrence that black actresses face. Because many celebrity hair stylists are not skilled in doing black hair, the actresses have to deal with having straightened hair or end up styling it themselves. In 2019, Yvette Nicole Brown, best known for playing Shirley on Community, tweeted that the safest course of action is to already come prepared before set.

“Most Black actresses come to a new set [with] their hair done (me) or bring their wigs and clip-ins [with] them. It’s either that or take a chance that you will look crazy on screen,” she tweeted. “Many of us also bring our own foundation. One too many times seeing no shade that matches you will learn ya!”

As the industry continues to diversify their casting in front of the cameras, it’s a problem that such initiatives are not being taken behind the scenes. Black hair stylists and makeup artists are expected to know how to style and makeup white and non POC actors and actresses. But the same expectations are not are not being held on the reverse side. For something so problematic to be normalized to the extent that Black artists feel the need to get their hair done with their own money before set, shows just how far racial inequality runs in the industry.

Once upon a time, celebrities would have kept their mouth shut about these inequalities in fear of being perceived as “too difficult” or “uncooperative.” Now more than ever they are finally starting to push back and be more vocal about the issue. This isn’t just happening specifically in the movies and TV show business, but the entertainment industry as a whole. Gabrielle Union, wife of Dwayne Wade and former judge on America’s Got Talent, took a public stand against the producers of America’s Got Talent after claiming to be fired due to discrimination and being told her hairstyles look “too black.”

Empire actress Taraji P. Henson also spoke up on how enough is enough and she’s tired of keeping quiet on this obvious issue. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, she talks about a time a stylist damaged her hair with a roost booster because they were inexperienced with black hair. When faced with an internal debate of asking for a different stylist, she decided against it because she didn’t want to appear as “too difficult.”

Yes, there is an increase in Black hair celebrity stylists in the Hollywood scene. But that doesn’t negate the fact that on a normal basis Black artists, on both a big and small scale, face challenges of professional stylists not knowing how to do proper hair care. Black actors and actresses are hired solely for their acting ability. Taking on the responsibility of doing their own hair or seeking outside help to manage their hair is not part of the job description, nor should it be. As casting directors, producers and agents actively work to diversify the casts that grace the screen, the same energy needs to be given behind the scenes by hiring diverse hair stylists that can properly attend to Black hair.

Janelle Sessoms

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