Sanaa Lathan is one of many fearlessly beautiful, Black actresses that has lived in our hearts and fantasies since forever, more specifically since her beloved 2000 movie Love and Basketball.
Her latest project, Nappily Ever After, released by Netflix this September, tells the tale of a Black woman's life and how her hair has affected her love of self through out her life. The plot was immediately intriguing to me. Almost all women can relate to the highs and lows of identity seeking through her hair. Black women have especially different experiences with their hair, as ideas of beauty have historically been fed to us as straight, sleek hair is what makes you pretty and is what makes people take you seriously.
Lathan's delivery in her role is filled with her usual passion. As a girl, her mother scolded her if she tried to partake in kids' activities that would mess up her hair, such as swimming. With this forced idea of straight beauty and the need to be perfectly done up at all times, Lathan's character's self-esteem was scarred from the beginning.
As an adult, she finds herself losing the man she thought she'd marry. It's sad at first, but ultimately the split sparked something in her. It sent her soul-searching. And one of the first things she does is change her hair.
She dyes it blonde and chops it short, determined to bounce back and do it by getting under someone else. It shocks her friends, and Lathan gives a cutting response: "It's called Fuck You Hair. Don't you like it?".
When her night ends with her awkwardly running away from a shirtless honey-soaked man she met at the club, along with the sight of her ex overtly flirting with someone else, she goes home, stares at herself in her mirror, and shaves all of her hair clean off of her head. Fun fact: Lathan actually shaved her head in real life for this role, so shout out to you queen for being extremely dedicated to your career because I would have cried for days.
I have actually imagined myself doing this many times when I grew frustrated with my own mane, so it was oddly satisfying to watch Lathan do this. It was painful though to watch her feelings of sadness and despair expressed in her face, so desperately wanting to feel loved and desired.
Some scenes seemed not quite timed right, either too long or underdeveloped. The garden scene of her new beau rubbing oil on her bald head for several minutes was a little much. Other scenes seemed a little unrealistic, like the ones of Lathan getting up early every morning to put makeup on so her boyfriend still finds her attractive. If he can't see you in your natural morning face, it ain't real sis. But the immense pressure on women to look and act in a socially-acceptable way is real, often instilling a fake notion that appearance is equal to self-worth in the minds of girls from an early age.
While some aspects of the movie could be seen as portraying a narrow view of a black woman's life, it is important to note that this is a story of one black woman's hair journey and should not be seen as the only narrative of any Black woman's story in real life.
Many scenes resonated well, like when Lathan quits her job in advertising after her white, male counterparts and their basic, cliché beer commercial pitch win over her boss, despite the quality her ad delivered and the work she put into it. These moments are important as they show how she transforms from a people-pleasing, "sit still, look pretty" type of woman, into a fierce, self-confident and self-assured woman who will take no more shit.
Caught in a rebound spell, she gets back with her ex for a moment, only to realize that it can never work the same way, as she's a different person now. The ending climax scene of her jumping fully clothed into a pool was freeing and joyous. Some of her friends and family jumped in too, everyone getting their hair wet, bringing the movie full circle from the opening scene of her as a child longing to swim.
Overall, the movie is original and relatable in its concept. It is also always refreshing to see a film with a script that focuses on its protagonist's personal growth and not solely on the man she ends up with. A black woman's hair journey can be filled with love and hate, and it is a story that did not used to be told often. Times are changing now.
It is great to see more and more Black women embrace their natural hair in recent years. There are so many more products and resources on today's shelves made for people with thick, curly and kinky hair, when it used to be a very small or non-existent aisle. It's a trend that I'm happy exists. The visibility of Black women being open about their struggle with their hair and their identities, and their journey to finding the answers is beautiful. It's great to see a movie like this help push that idea even further into our minds, the idea of embracing who you are and feeling the power of self-love. No one can tell you how to love yourself; it is something you discover on your own. It is likely to be a journey of ups and downs throughout all of life, and there's just something so beautiful in fully realizing that.
Words by Destanie Martin-Johnson // @destaniemj