Nappily Ever After: A Review
It was the night before my land law exam. My eyes were sore, my head ached and my stomach churned from nervousness. Yet all I could think about was my hair. As a child, I was told my hair was too ‘tough,’ and began a regular tri-annual journey to the hair salon to relax – chemically straighten – my hair. But as I grew older and realised due to my hair’s new structure I could never have an afro, I decided I wanted to go natural. My sister had natural hair her entire life and I envied the way her hair was always curly. My hair was never curly. So for nearly a year before this exam, I didn’t relax my hair and let the natural roots begin to grow. In the community we call this ‘transitioning’ and I opted for this over the ‘big chop,’ whereby all the relaxed hairs are cut. I felt like this would be too drastic of a change to the thick shoulder length hair I’d spent years carefully growing. Yet the night before this land exam, this transitioned hair felt too heavy. It felt too powerful and too difficult. I grabbed my scissors and began to cut, watching all the hairs fall away to reveal my real afro. After this, I felt stronger. I don’t know why, but I felt more confident and more able to complete this exam.
Months later when I saw the trailer for ‘Nappily Ever After,’ a movie about a black woman accepting her natural hair as her life falls apart, I was ecstatic! I felt it paralleled my life perfectly. As a university student, your life is a constant battle between meltdowns and as a black woman, with the connection your hair has to your sense of self, I was excited to hear what this film had to say. However, by the time I got to the last twenty minutes of the film, I realised it didn’t have much to say about anything. We follow Violet Jones, played by Sanaa Lathan, through her breakup as she shaves her head, quits her job, finds a new love interest, goes back to her ex, and then leaves him as she embraces her natural hair. That said there is no depth to this film; there is no deep understanding of what her hair means to her, other than the fact she is a perfectionist. It often felt as though the film was moving too fast through events and not giving us time to accept the full extent of the situation. Aside from the opening images of her as a child getting her hair flat-ironed by her mum, we see no core understanding of why her hair matters so much. For this reason, many of the films pivotal moments, like shaving her head carried a sense of fake reaction. It almost felt like the film had not earned the right to use this much emotional energy.
Although I’m sure it will frustrate people that this film had a platform and chose not to use it to engage in wider social commentaries about black female hair, I applaud this film just for existing. I admit I was initially disappointed, but soon acknowledged I had seen hundreds of films starring white women having breakdowns about life with no deep commentary for feminism or white femme lives. Why couldn’t a film helmed by a black woman also be a simple rom-com? Just because a film stars a black woman, does not mean she becomes the sole representative of the community. It is unfair of us as an audience to put that much pressure on it. Besides this, though the character had not earned the expressive power used in the scene where she shaves her hair, the knowledge that Lathan had used her real hair brought me close to tears. Actress or not to cut a lifetime’s worth of growth, when sustaining black hair growth is the hardest amongst all hair types was empowering in itself. That was a real emotion I could connect with.
This movie has just as much right to exist as many of the other white led female journey based films that dominate the box office. Despite incremental changes in the industry, films starring black people simply enjoying modern life and not fighting slavery or deep personal drama are few and far between. This film offers a few laughs but ultimately carries the message of self-acceptance. The fact it doesn’t argue against Trump’s immigration policies does not mean its existence is somehow less valid just because black people are involved. We need more films starring black women in their everyday lives, as they are emotionally filled, reckless and funny people just like everyone else. Though it didn’t give me the therapeutic session on black hair I craved, it still opened an interesting discussion and it was more familiar to me than anything I’d seen in the past year.
Image belongs to Netflix.