I approached Nappily Ever After with a bit of apprehension. The storyline is extremely familiar and intrinsically sacred within the black community, where black women are often told that their hair in its natural, ‘nappy’ state is not acceptable or desirable. As a result, I feared the movie’s take would be subpar at best and insulting at worst. I was very wrong.
Much more than a depiction of self-imposed self-work, Nappily Ever After, directed by Haifaa Al-Mansour, challenges viewers to wholeheartedly release the things that chain them. It is a story about rejecting who others say we are and celebrating the person we know ourselves to be.
The romantic comedy, based on the 2000 novel by Trisha R. Thomas, chronicles the journey of self-discovery faced by Violet Jones (Sanaa Lathan), a young, successful black woman enamored with the idea of outward perfection. At the outset, Jones appears to have it all: a successful career at a marketing firm, a two-year relationship seemingly on the brinks of engagement, and flawlessly maintained, straight hair to top it all off.
Her life slowly begins to unravel, however, after she abruptly breaks up with her boyfriend, faces a harsh work setback, and undergoes some unexpected hair loss during a salon mishap. Devastated by the events at hand, after a night of drinking, she shaves her head and is subsequently forced to confront the person underneath.
Themes of identity, self-acceptance, and female empowerment emerge. On multiple accounts, Violet is challenged to reject the ideals of success and beauty placed upon her, forcing her to relearn and love the woman within.
Through this film, Netflix enters into a much larger conversation in world history, holding up a mirror to repressive Eurocentric beauty ideals as they relate to black women and their hair.
When the pencil test was used as a standard of racial identification, women of color in South Africa were told that the value of who they were as a person could be boiled down to the density of their hair.
A few years back, when Gabby Douglas won the gold medal in the 2012 London Olympics, we were once again reminded that comments made on a black woman’s hair often supersede their talent, capabilities, and accomplishments.
Hair is still something black women are fighting to wear without question, ridicule, or shame. Nappily Ever After challenges women, specifically black women, to celebrate the person underneath the hair.
Without entertaining overtly spiritual ideas, the film tackles the concept of finding the “fearfully and wonderfully made” within us all. As people of faith who are tasked to seek the Imago Dei in every person we encounter, Nappily Ever After teaches us something of the same. There is something for us all when Violet is challenged to confront the mold through which she allows others to define her. With subtlety and charm, we are reminded that we are so much greater than the hair on our head.