This weekend the internet was abuzz with conversation about the Netflix original movie Nappily Ever After, starring veteran actress Sanaa Lathan. This film is based on Trisha R. Thomas’ best-selling novel about a trailblazing ad exec (Violet Jones) who experiences a brief period of romantic, emotional turbulence that delays her upward mobility for the greater part of the film. The lowlight-turned-highlight of Violet’s journey of self-discovery is chopping it all off and going bald.
This storyline has piqued the interest of women of colour across the globe, as our hair has always been a talking point socially and professionally. As protagonist Sanaa Lathan told us, ‘This movie comes at a time when women are coming into their power and realising their self-worth. So it is such a great time for the movie to come out, as it is a modern fairytale for the modern woman.’ Meet Violet and then hear from Sanaa below:
And now that you’ve met Violet Jones, you can get to know Sanaa’s story, who shares similarities with her character:
Whether Hollywood likes it or not, there is a demand for more inclusivity.
What is the main thing that you want modern women to take away from this film?
All fairytales have always taught us how we should look; or that we should be objects of desire, and that the ultimate prize is to be chosen by a man. With this movie I want women to know that they can [reject] that box that society has put us in. That box is just a box – we can step outside of it. We can have our own self-discoveries about who we want to be and our worth is tied to how we feel about ourselves – not some outside source.
Did you ever experience similar struggles as that of Violet when you were younger?
Absolutely. I definitely have been conditioned by society as a black woman. Even as an actress I’ve been [subjected to the idea that our hair is less desirable] – when I was coming up, you couldn’t really wear your hair natural. It [was] very rare. That’s why, for a lot of people in my generation, it has taken a lot to reclaim our roots unlike the younger actresses. I’ve been asked by producers, ‘can you please straighten your hair, wear a weave, make [your hair] longer or straighter.’ That is the reality in order to survive in the kind of business that has to conform [to those beauty standards].
So when you cut your hair for Nappily Ever After, what was that moment like for you?
I was terrified even though I was kind of ready to do it, because I had a little bit of hair exhaustion. I knew I had to do it, though. I was so pleasantly surprised by the reactions – from the public, and from friends. People really liked it and it was so freeing, as I no longer had all the stresses related to hair. It was really freeing and liberating.
Have you ever felt like your hair defines you?
I never felt like my hair defined me because I was always changing it up [anyway]. But it is a universal thing that we have been taught – ‘hair equals beauty’ and that’s why cutting my hair was a big deal.
How do you feel societal norms are changing in terms of today’s beauty standards?
Whether Hollywood likes it or not, there is a demand for more inclusivity. We’re seeing representation of the world that we live in, which is multicultural. Women are wearing their natural hair more, so I feel like it is an exciting time for women of colour. There’s still a long way to go, but I feel like we’ve come a long way.
We are all unique and there is beauty in our differences.
How is the potential for authentic black storytelling changing with services like Netflix in particular?
I think we still have more room for that. The fact that we can still count the number of black movies is a problem. There is one or two films that I can think of with an Asian lead – that’s a problem, we need more. I love that it is finally happening, but we gotta catch up. This is the 21st century and it is time for it to be a completely diverse world of images.
Can you articulate why true black representation in film matters and why projects dealing with black subject matter are so relevant and important for all audiences?
It is relevant because it is the human condition and there is no one race or look that is above the other. We are all unique and there is beauty in our differences. Every human emotion that comes within the body of a black person is universal.
Besides black pain, what other narratives do you think the film industry should be tapping into about the black experience?
I think we should be telling all kinds of stories – modern-day stories, stories about our past heroes, stories about the struggle, everyday people and everyday living. I want it to be the new normal, as opposed to just tackling specific issues.
A clear theme in the movie is that of self-care, so how does Sanaa practice self-care?
It includes working out, staying on my diet, meditating, writing in my journal and spending time with my friends. It is really about turning within and treating myself right – anything you would want to do to make someone else feel better, put that on yourself and do it for yourself.
And for those who have not yet watched, this is not a spoiler, but it is a scene worth giving props to:
— Kaki✨ (@kakicakes) September 21, 2018
Plus, a word from the author’s daughter;
My mood all day today! My mom waited almost 18 years for #nappilyeverafter to be made into a film! I’m so happy for her! Please check out the Nappily series! She is currently working on book #10 coming soon! pic.twitter.com/W2y09XQFGv
— TiffanyTCasting (@TiffanyAThomas) September 22, 2018
If you have not yet watched Nappily Ever After, you can still catch it on Netflix for a feel-good moment at the end of a long day.