Nappily Ever After: Changing Perceptions of Black Beauty
The new NetFlix Original Film, Nappily Ever After, is based on the 2001 book published by author, Trisha R. Thomas. The story follows Violet Jones, a successful ad executive, whose hiccup on the never-ending journey toward perfection places her in the throws of existential crisis, causing her to redefine her concepts of self, beauty, and acceptance. The book earned Thomas numerous awards and recognition, including the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literature in 2001 and the status of finalist for the Golden Pen Best Fiction and Best New Writer Award. Acclaimed actress, Sanaa Lathan, has breathed new life into this story as she earns her second producer credit in an acting career that spans two decades.
"The film industry still functions as a straight, White, boy’s club."
The 2015 and 2016 Academy Awards were two consecutive years that produced all white Oscar nominees yeilding the infamous hashtag: #Oscarssowhite. Celebrities and critics, alike, took to social media to call attention to the lack of representation and opportunity that exists for people of color in the media. This is what three USC researchers have termed, “an epidemic of invisibility”. In effort to address “complex social problems”, Drs. Stacy L. Smith, March Choueiti, and Katherine Pieper published a Comprehensive Annenberg Report on Diversity in Entertainment (CARD) entitled: “Inclusion or Invisibility: Comprehensive Annenberg Report on Diversity in Entertainment”. Among their key findings the scholars noted that: “Across the 11,306 speaking characters evaluated, 66.5% were male and 33.5% were female”. They also noted that this representation was even lower among queer people of color, aptly terming Hollywood a “straight, White, boy’s club”. What is so pivotal about Lathan’s production is the key role African American women get to play in a story that is all their own. This is a movie about an African American woman, based on a book written by an African American woman, starring, and produced by an African American woman; which, could further speak to the spirited public response to the NetFlix Original Film.
In her 2018 interview with Elle Magazine, Lathan draws parallels to how, like her hair, Violet has been pressed, damaged, and subdued most of her life. In the book, the character Violet undergoes a series of hair transitions, and in a final act of freeing herself, commits to the ‘big chop’, shaving her hair and embracing an ideal of beauty outside the norm. This symbolic act defies centuries of societal pressure on black women to negate their natural form and conform to an idea of beauty that is completely endemic to black construction. This is probably why the picture posted to social media of Lathan’s shaved head, in preparation for the role, received such an outcry of support, inspiring many to do the same.
Stories and films like Nappily Ever After are so influential in changing perceptions of black beauty, because for the first time in popular culture they have been named, and seen, and voiced.