Nappily Ever After

First and foremost the writers came out the gate swinging when Violet, played by Sanaa Lathan, explains an upbringing that included respectability politics. As the movie begins with a flashback to the character’s childhood, Violet describes the different levels of pressure felt by white and black children.

“Like most black mothers, mine was consumed by the presentation of her child.

I was a reflection of her as a mother.

It was an ever source of anxiety to prove that I was just as well groomed as any white child.

They would play, hair uncombed, no shoes, traces of everything they’d eaten smeared on their faces, completely happy and oblivious to any possible defects to their appearance.

I on the other hand, had to be fixed”

But for an 11 year old, perfection was no fun”

Not only are we reflections of our parents abilities to properly rear children but because we are also black, we are reflections of our race and as such must be tamed. Even as children, we aren’t allowed to be as free as our white counterparts.

As we flash forward to violet as an adult we get our first example of how women jump through hoops to maintain their appearance. This is depicted in Violet’s straight long hair. Violet is getting her hair straightened by her mother in the wee hours of the morning, she ducks and dodges her boyfriends attempts to run his finger through her freshly styled hair, and subsequently dodges the steam from the dishwasher. Violet continues to maintain the constant mental preoccupation with her hair as she constantly checks the weather.

“Are you sure that’s not a rain cloud?”

All of these actions are testaments to the extra effort black women (ESPECIALLY black natural women with freshly straightened hair) must put forth to keep their hairstyle intact.

An accident, or more so an evil genius plan by a child at the beauty shop, leads Violet on a journey of self discovery when conditioner that’s been switched to relaxer causes her hair to fall out. It’s here that the audience is introduced to two characters who are very important to Violet’s development throughout the rest of the film. Zoe, played by Daria Johns, and her father, Will, played by Lyriq Bent.

Next, Violet expecting a proposal from Clint, her boyfriend of two years, is let down when she instead receives a dog for her birthday rather than a ring. At the dinner we see the cliche, “beauty is pain” depicted by the heels Violet is wearing that are cutting into her skin. The heels are a subtle symbol that is very important to the overall theme of the film.

It’s still all downhill for Violet as she breaks up with Clint after the dinner. Again the theme of perfection is used as Violet realizes that although she’s seen as perfect by her boyfriend, her inability to let her hair down ultimately ends up being detrimental to her relationship.

The idea of perfection really begins to haunt Violet as she, working in advertising, attempts to acquire an ad campaign for lipstick. When the woman in the ad is referred to as “perfect’ by her boss, Violet is opposed to this term, calling it unfair and believing that her boss “isn’t really seeing her.” Undoubtedly seeing herself as tied to the woman in the ad, its important to note that after this scene Violet no longer wants to do beauty ads.

Are the film creators trying to portray that beauty ads reduce women to just their bodies or physical features? Are they taking aim at the false sense of physical perfection, unrealistic beauty standards, and unfair pressure placed on women by beauty ads?

After yet another hair change, a night out partying with friends, an unsuccessful hookup attempt, and a run in with Clint comes arguably the greatest scene in the movie.

THE CUT SCENE!!

This scene is of course extremely important to the story line but even more so to Sanaa Lathan and testimony to her acting abilities. Sanaa is cutting her REAL HAIR! First, let’s talk about a one-shot take. No do overs! Second, Sanaa is experiencing this while having to experience this as Violet. WOW! MIND BLOWN!

This scene is just simply magnificent! 

As a woman who’s also done the big chop, I felt as if Sanaa conveyed exactly how it could feel for anyone. Scary, fun, liberating, life-changing, dangerous.

Even down to the song choice this scene was PERFECT!

Another theme that Violet is able to produce for the audience is the importance of confidence. With each hair change we see a change in Violet’s level of confidence, from her own hair, to her weave, and most notably her big chop, Violet loses more and more confidence with each subsequent hair change. The film makers use Violet’s workplace in all three occasions to convey this to the audience.

It has been argued that the movie basically claimed that cutting off all your hair resolves all of your life problems. A deeper look at the film however negates this claim when we realize that Violet’s life doesn’t begin to piece back together until her encounter at the Cancer Survivor meeting.

Wearing a scarf to cover her new cut, Violet is mistaken by a cancer survivor as a fellow survivor and upon meeting her, invites an unsuspecting Violet to her group meeting. When Violet uncovers her head at the meeting she is told that unless she “owns it” she’ll always be ignored.

The movie then, is more so saying that confidence, no matter how one chooses to carry themselves or express themselves through hair and other physical appearance features is the basis for finding oneself and solving life’s problems rather than the claim that a change in hairstyle alone is the quick fix.

As stated previously, the Will and Zoe characters are both important to Violet’s development and the overall theme of the film. As Violet begins to develop a relationship with Zoe, a child troubled by the absence of her mother, she also begins a romantic relationship with Zoe’s father, Will.

The hair discussion that takes place between Violet and Will is extremely noteworthy.

“What we make up 12% of the population right? But we buy 70% of all wigs and weaves. What does that say” – Will

“…we hate our hair?” – Violet

Agree or disagree? Do these statistics tell the whole story?

Will’s character also expresses the importance of nurturing our children as they deal with combating a society who’s beauty norms are antithesis to our very being.

“I tell her everyday she’s beautiful you know? but I’m battling TV, commercials, magazines telling her that long straight hair is what makes you beautiful.”

Will is adamant about teaching his daughter to love herself and to be comfortable with who she is. 

Less related to Violet’s characterization, Will is also important because his character takes aim at stereotypical gender norms and conceptions of masculinity. Will is a hairstylist who owns his own salon, has a house full of plants, doesn’t use physical punishment with his child, and makes hair products. The character also targets the negative stereotype of black men’s absence from the family and the lives of their children in particular as Will is a full time single father.

Will is important to Violet’s development as we see her go through several transitions once he comes into her life. First there is the battle between living up to our parent’s expectations versus being true to ourselves as Violet defends her date with Will to her mother, Pauletta.Violet even changes her food order on the date from a salad to a matching burger and fries, She’s beginning to “let her hair down.”There’s even significance to the scalp massage Will gives Violet on the date when compared to the ducking and dodging we previously saw between Violet and Clint. 

With all these changes Violet even ventures to quit her job. After pitching an ad for a beer commercial in an attempt to add something new to a heavily sexist commercial history, Violet’s boss chooses an ad that remains dedicated to the same norms. Violet comes to the conclusion that with the new changes of her perspective she can no longer hold down her same spot in the workplace.

After the return of Clint and a marriage proposal, which Violet accepts, Clint becomes one of the final pieces in Violet’s evolution. Just before a pre-wedding party where Violet is to meet Clint’s parents he asks her to change, to “do something with her hair” because he needs the evening to be perfect. Here Violet begins to have to choose between who she’s always been, “Mrs. Perfect” and who she’s becoming. Its important to notice that as Violet attempts to fit back into her old mold her mother is back doing her hair and the painful heels are back as well. She realizes for the last time that she can’t live up to these expectations and that she shouldn’t have to.

She’s stuck. No longer able to bear another moment in the uncomfortable heels, but more so the uncomfortable mold of other people’s expectations, Violet decides to go for a swim. She no longer wants to be the girl the guy wants, she wants to be the girl she wants. The girl who gets to jump in the pool, be oblivious to how others perceive her, and be free. The girl she didn’t get the opportunity to be at eleven. This is largely the significance of the Zoe character. Zoe is the exact opposite of Violet at that age. A young girl who dares to be herself and who’s been raised to be a free, fun-loving courageous child. Zoe is a big inspiration to Violet.

The film makes one last important attempt to convey its message when Violet attempts to sell Will’s hair products to a major company for mass production. She talks bout the importance of inclusion by having products for all hair types both natural and relaxed. The best part about this scene is that Violet doesn’t attempt to identify a right or wrong. That its free will that allows us to choose how we want to look as we attempt to navigate our world.

Lastly, the movie ends with Violet walking away by herself smiling. At first I instinctively wondered whether her and Will ended up back together just to come to the realization that this is an even better ending, For once, it’s not about the girl ending up with the guy. This was a big reminder of the movie’s purpose, finding oneself and coming to love who it is we find.

image

3 Replies to “Nappily Ever After”

  1. I loooove how many conversation starters are in this piece. My favorite would have to be the rhetorical question that asks whether we, black women, hate our hair. Beautiful website and awesome piece. ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Really enjoyed this read. This movie means a lot because I went through some of the same changes, still am. Have hardship dealing with my mother for some of these exact reasons violet felt like she had to be perfect for hers….I felt like i owed my mother that at the time. Do you believe some of the pressures applied by parents like Violets are only to blame from our history and struggles? Ireally have resentment towards my mom for some of the appearances I had to hold going to private school my whole life, especially when I began to break out of that mold. But she saw where I was as opportunity for me. They never knew we were from the Projects.

    Like

    1. I’m really glad you enjoyed it! Thank you for reading! And yes, I definitely think a lot our missteps come from our history and struggle. Discrimination made us seek validation of our humanity in how much we could mimic whiteness. Whiteness used as the yardstick of success in many cases. I feel like i see this in so much of the things we do as a community and especially the way we raise our children. But we experience freedom when define this for ourselves!

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: