At the root of the Black woman experience is a complex and nuanced relationship with our hair. We are faced with life-defining decisions from the moment the coils kink from our crown — wear it how our hair naturally grows, or manipulate it to fit society’s European-based beauty standards?
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Justin Simien returns to the big screen, after his lauded Dear White People directorial debut, with a psychological thriller — Bad Hair — that explores the role White supremacy plays in Black hair and premiers on Hulu this fall.
“This is a film about white supremacy, let’s not get it twisted,” said Simien while participating in week two of the 2020 virtual ESSENCE Festival of Culture Beauty Carnival alongside the films’ stars Lena Waithe, Laverne Cox, Vanessa Williams and Elle Lorraine. “It’s a fun movie. It’s a popcorn movie. It’s a thriller. But it’s also about these systems that appear like choices but aren’t really choices.”
If you’ve never thought to correlate hair and horror, congratulations, you just admitted your privilege. It’s gift usually only afforded to other races. As a Black woman, our hair — how it naturally grows from our scalp — is a “problem” in professional settings, social settings and pretty much anywhere we stride. From side-eyes and stares, it is often the determining factor in how we are treated.
Simien’s experience as a Black man provides the foundation for his sophomore directorial display. Still, Simien grew up in a house full of women. He even adopted his family’s names as his character’s monikers; and their experiences serve as the storyline for this Sundance favorite.
“It was really important for me to make this movie not as an interrogation of a Black woman’s right; how she wants to present herself or how he wants to wear her hair — it’s really an interrogation of a society that says well, if you don’t do it this way, well you’re excluded from society,” Simien explained to ESSENCE’s Entertainment Director Cori Murray. “If you sort of show up the way you were made, the way you were born you’re going to be excluded from these conversations. “
Like the countless stories we’ve read where Black women are penalized for their hair, society has deemed natural Black hairstyles unkempt and therefore inferior.
“Hair, since the birth of this country, has been a way to control Black bodies by the systems of white supremacy and I wanted to get into that. That to me is the horror that keeps me up at night,” Simien added. “Horror movies that stand the test of time speak to a real horror, a real sense of dread people have. Knowing that me, walking through the world the way God made me could get me killed is what I’m trying to distill through this movie about hair.”
When asked about their experiences working with Simien on the film, Lorraine jumped at the opportunity to speak his praises.
“It was one of the dopest experiences I’ve had. I’ve known Justin for a very long time and we hadn’t gotten to plan in that capacity ever in our lives,” the actress began. “There was just a beautiful trust I had for him and I trusted his overall vision and I had to have that trust because so much was going on at one time.”
Bad Hair debuts on Hulu in October.