Long, short, braided, bobbed, kinky, coily, curly, straight...it's all hair at the end of the day, right? Well, not really.
As most of you know, I'm an actor, singer, writer, producer, et al. But for me, I don't categorize myself as a "black actor;" more so an actor who's black. If you feel they are the same, they are not. And while this year's EMMY Awards showed that it's a great time to be an actor who is black and female in mainstream media, there is still a basic face and look that comes with that. Especially for those of us still trying to break in.
When directors and casting agents think 'leading lady,' my tribe is not the immediate mind set for them. I am chocolate brown and there is not a whole lot of me out there that I can see. There are the gorgeous dark skinned and midnight hued beauties like Lupita and Viola. Their look and mystique seen as distinct and desirable. And there are the light to peanut butter brown babes like Kerry and Tracy Ellis Ross. Their mixed or ethnically ambiguous features, interchangeable and delicate. But there are not very many brown - skinned ladies. Those that no matter the clandestine ethnic mix or multi-hyphenate background, we just look like black women. Regina King fits the bill for sure. She is a strong beauty and a hell of an actor and director. The difference though, she's usually seen in a dope hair cut or fly wig or weave. Nia is in there too...but she's the same. Along with Tachina and even Taraji. We may see Taraji flaunt her natural and beautiful hair on Instagram, and I'm sure the weaves and wigs are protective styles that are necessary for the damage that can happen on set. But realistically, those that hire her usually want the flowing beach waves or full and luscious blunt cut a weave or wig produces. And with Regina, we've not seen her natural strands without chemicals or tracks since about the time she played the bubbly and sassy Brenda Jenkins on 227.
Please note, this is not a slight on ANY of these ladies by any means! Just an observation. I don't think that I'm "regular" in a self-deprecating way. But when you see me, for all intents and purposes, I'm a regular black girl. No excessively slanted eyes, no petite little nose, no mixed media at all.
As a result my plight is, where are the cocoa brown, natural ladies outside of the Amazonian anomaly that is Aisha Hinds. Her stature and presence is intimidating and ethereal all at once. And her nearly bald head only emphasizes that. But where else are we in the foreground of film and television? Where are those twist out wearing, bantu knot rocking, shaved head smashing, low ceasar keeping sistahs in tinsel town? The ones who ignite flames just by showing up. Even with a face beat, their natural beauty is on display and proving that exotic is not just ethnically ambiguous or black and 'fill in the blank.' BUT that exotic and amazing and most of all acceptable is inclusive of a sister who doesn't have to don a weave, a wig, a press and curl, or a bone straight blow out to lead a film or TV show and express to the world that her follicles and her talent are not interconnected?
When I cut my hair the first time in 1998 I was a teen and dating a Panamanian boy. He was cool and sweet, but for as sexy and beautiful as he claimed I was...his family preferred the light skinned and silky haired Pana he'd been with before me. Shoot, seems he did too, since he had that chick paging him on the beeper I BOUGHT. Dude was laying with his long haired beauty some days, while rubbing my close crop on other nights. Then I dated a Dominican gent whose mother didn't know I understood Spanish quite well. We were at a family function and this woman called me all kinds of 'nappy headed niggers' (even though my hair was permed and LAID HUNTY), and 'black boy-girls' that she could. Mind you he and his dad were darker than I am and she was certainly chemically treating to achieve that satin ponytail she had...lol. So guess what, in 2010 when my favorite human on the planet died (my Grampie), I challenged myself. I needed to cleanse and get a do over in order for me to get it together and deal with life without him. I was overweight, but I wouldn't work out much because God forbid I sweat out this permed pixie cut I just sat in the salon for four hours and spent upwards of $100 on! And I liked my short hair a lot! It was just enough hair to be sexy and sassy looking, but there was a bang to hide behind too. However, what if the hair was gone? What if it was just me and my natural, tight coils?! Would I look like a boy? Would I attract the opposite sex anymore? Would I book acting jobs?! This was all before the natural hair explosion of today, and my initial thought was "HELL NO!" So, because I feared it and doubted it all...I did it! I went to my barber and said shave it...all. I'd never been so unsure and felt so un-pretty as I did walking home from the shop that night. I got home, looked in the mirror and cried into my pillow, feeling I'd doomed myself to be single and jobless in this industry.
Then a strange thing happened. Over time I began to get compliments. And yes, at the time I needed that external validation for this epic change I'd made! And through that...finally, I saw myself. I looked past my low self-esteem and the verbal abuse I suffered at the hands of mean ex-boyfriends, catty women and insensitive family members. I saw the makings of a beautiful woman reshaping not just her look, but her own take on the standard of beauty she sought, and where she fit in that rubric. I realized that if I owned this thing, I could find a level of confidence that I'd never known. I could overcome the brain washed visual ingrained in me since childhood of what "good hair" was and how it lent itself to my appeal. And make no mistake, I salute all sisters...silky, kinky and everything in between! I also acknowledge that for many of my softer haired honies, it had been more me with the insecurities and issues than them with any superiority situations. And realistically, they are usually just living their lives and being themselves; it's often society that wants to place them at the top of the texture totem pole of preference. Many could usually care less!
Thankfully though, I can say today, that I LOVE my hair. Whether it's shaved low, fluffy and puffy, or twisted and coily! And this understanding of the emotional process it took to get me there was why I LEAPT at the chance to be part of an incredible documentary called "Back To Natural." Psychologist Gillian Scott-Ward created this film to address all of these things we think and have been subjected to due to our hair. She has a much different take on this than Chris Rock had in his film "Good Hair," as she addresses the social, psychological and historical paths that this hair situation has taken, and its lasting effect on women of color. She is bringing positivity to natural hair in the unnatural land of Hollywood!
Gillian has finished filming this incredible piece of work, but she needs to complete the film now. And if you did not know, post production is the most challenging and costly part of the indie filmmakers journey to getting a project "in the can."
Please click this link to check out the story behind this film, Gillian Scott-Ward (the filmmaker), special cutting room floor outtakes and even cast intro videos...including MINE! I am asking you all, my Shining Starrs, to please donate. There are a little more than 30 days left to raise the needed funds and Gillian really needs your help. If you have been or know those little girls that suffered the sizzle of a hot comb, the sting of a racial or mean comment regarding your texture, style or length, or just someone that feels Hollywood needs to get off the follicle follies and hire talent and not texture...donate, PLEASE! No amount is too small and it all helps get this piece made and out to festivals and possibly a theatre and or TV near you!
Oh...and to Hollywood, I'd say knowing that acting is the keen ability to bringing genuine emotion to a fictitious situation...ACT like natural sisters come in more facets than light and fluffy! Because with the fake butts, injected duck lips and all the other faux parts, inflated egos and fake ideas of who and what brown and black people are, embracing our genuine selves can lead you even further into the large pool of money the dollar of color brings to the table. #ImJustSaying
Let me know your thoughts and please shout out and share Gillian's project! She’s got a few cool perks for donations too! *wink*
*goes back to digging through Pinterest for my next haircut*