Bad Hair (2020)

Bad Hair
Director: Justin Simien
Writer: Justin Simien
Cast: Elle Lorraine, Vanessa Williams, Lena Waithe, Yaani King Mondschein, Jay Pharoah, James Van Der Beek, Judith Scott, Kelly Rowland, Usher, Blair Underwood, Michelle Hurd, Chanté Adams, Laverne Cox
Part of: SLASH 1/2 Festival
Seen on: 19.6.2021

Content Note: attempted rape, (critical treatment of) racism

1989. Anna (Elle Lorraine) works for the Black music TV station and dreams of getting her own show. But when the people who own the network decide that their station needs a new direction and new leadership, Anna’s mentor (Judith Scott) gets the shaft and she is faced with the glossy former model Zora (Vanessa Williams) as the new head of the station, ready to revamp everything. That includes Anna’s style. More specifically, her hair that Anna has always worn naturally. Anna knows that nothing less but the new sensational weave from the fancy salon will do, just like superstar Sandra (Kelly Rowland) wears it. It’s only that something is up with that hair.

Bad Hair is not a film that is aimed at me, I don’t think, but I still managed to enjoy it a lot. It has some great effects, is a good time and makes some interesting political points.

The film poster showing a Black hand reaching from a mass of straight black hair.

The politics surrounding Black hair are very indicative of the racist society we live in. Black natural hair is seen as unprofessional, and Black people are forced to spend a lot of time, money, effort and pain on white hairstyles that can even damage their health. It’s fucked up. I assumed that this angle would play a bigger part in the film, but it’s actually only a sidenote. Yes, the pain that Black people, especially Black women, go through to fit their hair into white supremacism is made obvious (and dammit, the scene where Anna gets her weave is fucking gruesome). And yes, in the end we see who profits and has control over the natural resources. But I got the clear feeling that the film tackles the discourse within the Black community much more. And since I am white, I can’t comment on that all that much.

I did find it interesting, though, the way Anna’s family talks about their/Black history in an almost activist way, and yet wear their hair straigthened, too. I’m not saying that you can’t be a Black activist if you don’t have natural hair, I just thought it’s an interesting point that keeps the film from falling into an easy dichotomy. The way the film navigates the topic in general is quite engaging, albeit feeling a little tangled at times (no pun intended). Though that just be my white perspective talking.

Anna (Elle Lorraine) and her colleagues Sista Soul (Yaani King Mondschein) and Brook-Lynne (Lena Waithe) looking doubtful.

Apart from the political dimension, there was another element here that I felt like I would have gotten more out of if it had been more my scene, and that is Black music from the 80s and the rise of the music videos/TV stations. I’m too young and too Austrian to really connect much with this. That being said, it felt like a wonderfully faithful look at the style of the time.

And yet, with alll of those caveats, I can still say that I enjoyed the film. I liked the characters (lovely performance by Lorraine), it has a nice sense of humor and the special effects were really nice – that hair was damn creepy. To round things off, it has some really nice cameos. So it’s definitely enjoyable, even if I wasn’t part of the core audience.

Anna (Elle Lorraine) clutching her weave with a horrified expression.

Summarizing: good.

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