The stigma of afro hair has plagued the media for decades. The misrepresentation and mischaracterization of afro hair being perceived as scruffy or unkempt – usually on the part of the wider European diaspora – is slowly being dismantled through true-to-life portrayal through film and television.
Caricatures and stereotypes of dark-skinned people have been normalized throughout performance art through elements such as a mockery of body figures and the infamous black face. Hair was often also considered a point of reference.
The obsession with straightening afro hair to somehow reflect the perceived normalcy of stereotypical European hair, as a sort of default setting, has also been scattered throughout the media. Reflecting a time when black people were systematically forced to conform to European standards of beauty in order to succeed, as negative perceptions were mixed with more common black traits.
So much so that to this day there have been debates in educational institutions – especially in Europe and the United States – about whether natural afro hairstyles are considered professional.
Talk to the New York Times
Lindsey won an Emmy for her work in hair day, and praised the series for having the courage to portray black women with their natural hair and romantically show that men “can love their women with natural-textured hair, that a young boy can fall in love with a girl with afro-textured hair.” She added: “I can’t wait for it to be normalized that we can wear our natural hair, not wigs and weaves, that we can celebrate the hair that naturally comes out of our scalp.”
This perception of default beauty standards, looks and character has plagued Hollywood since its inception. The 90s and 2000s were forged with the idea that generally films with black leads couldn’t sell, with Will Smith, Denzel Washington, Wesley Snipes and Morgan Freeman managing to turn the tide of the thought process.
Even with that, many actors frequently complained and lamented that the makeup departments struggled to cater to their skin tones, with the department’s products generally being aimed at lighter-skinned people, coupled with a lack of training on matching specific tones with certain colors.
As the late tens and twenties have passed, some producers, cast, and crew have actively worked to improve society’s understanding through widespread portrayal, hair is a big part of it.
Movies such as Black Panther, the more they fall, King Richardand Coming 2 America, recently introduced a variety of natural Afro hairstyles, well-known throughout the African diaspora, to a global audience. These movies have not only been critically acclaimed but have also been hugely successful at the box office.
From a societal perspective, AJ Asmar, who opened Hair Queen Beauty across the United States, noticed a definite positive change.
“I have six locations in Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama. I generate over $15 million in revenue each year and currently employ 80 people in my business. I haven’t seen this much pressure to women exposing their natural afro hair so far.
Asmar added: “From 2015 the environment was different with afro hair, wigs and weaves were much more common than they are now. We have noticed that products intended to nourish afro hair have become very popular, more than they used to be at the very least. I think Hollywood, television and film have a lot to do with it. People end up gravitating to what they see. They see themselves in the characters and attitudes they witness. Much of this happens on screen and through social media.
On how society at large has viewed and portrayed Afro hair over the years, Asmar said there is still work to be done.
“It is important that we eliminate the prejudice towards diverse hair. It’s completely ridiculous,” he said, “We’re not all the same, we should be celebrating our differences rather than forcing people to conform to what makes our society historically have this weird sense of comfort. .”
He concluded: “I am Palestinian and I have witnessed the gradual change in this sector over the years. I’m 100% about catering to people from all walks of life, rather than just focusing on Euro-centric hair.
“It’s great to see a positive change in the perception of afro hair.”
In addition to pushing for change, Asmar has also just launched the Retail University Training Technology to help people along their retail development journey. The virtual and interactive platform offers short videos accessible by phone, laptop or iPad. The program sends daily reports via text or email so business owners can hold their staff accountable and move them forward in areas such as sales and management.
In television and film, we consciously and unconsciously influence society through the portrayal of features, characters, and storylines. Portraying a certain look or hairstyle as negative or demeaning has been shown to have a direct impact on western society in particular. Factual over-policing, banking bias, and increasing abuse are all relative by-products of a lack of representation.
We have a responsibility to educate the public about the whole world through diverse stories and people, to help grow mutual understanding and prosperity. Representing cultures that are not of European origin then becomes no longer a matter of choice, but a responsibility.