International Women’s Month celebrates all the achievements of women globally. To honour women everywhere for their contributions to society. This year’s International Women's Day theme is particularly poignant as it encourages all to #BreakTheBias against women. To push the importance of living in a world without bias, discrimination, and stereotypes. A world where difference is valued and celebrated.
However, looking at the treatment of women of colour (WOC) in Hollywood, especially regarding afro hair, we cannot say that this exists just as yet. Thankfully, there are influential women out there who have a particular passion to see change and do not want to stay silent on the matter. So, here are our top six naturalistas that we can celebrate this International Women's Month and beyond. These women have taken strides towards breaking the bias in Hollywood.
As an actress who makes no apologies for who she is and embodies what it means to be a strong, black woman, Zendaya has never shied away from using her influence to elevate WOC. No one can forget that this 21-year-old said that Guiliana Rancic, the then Fashion Police co-host, was disrespectful for her comment, suggesting that Zendaya ‘smells like patchouli oil or weed’ for wearing faux dreadlocks to the 2015 Academy Awards.
Then, she showcased natural hair positively when she wore an afro at the 2017 InStyle Awards. She also credited political activist Angela Davis and her aunties as her inspiration behind this hairstyle. Most recently, we love that she wore the protective style of cornrows for the Spider-Man: No Way Home premiere, which highlighted the beauty and versatility of black hair.
Equalizer actress Queen Latifah has had a fantastic career that has lasted more than three decades. Queen Latifah had to learn how to take care of her natural hair on the set of her first TV show, Living Single, as she could not afford her hairstylist. As Queen Latifah was doing this TV show and music shows simultaneously, she relaxed her hair around four or five times a week.
While Queen Latifah can often be seen donning wigs and extensions, her interview with Essence highlights that her natural hair came first as she put it first. Furthermore, it highlights that Hollywood needs to respect afro hair.
Aisha Dee has stated how she always felt like an outcast growing up in Australia. Her most recent acting role has been on the Bold Type TV show, which portrayed three strong women from different backgrounds embracing what made them unique while working in a magazine environment. Aisha played Kat, an individual who is a proud woman of colour who eventually becomes confident with her sexuality.
However, in 2020, she penned an Instagram post that showed that, behind the scenes, the show was anything but diverse. This open letter to the producers of the Bold Type highlighted many problems related to diversity, and one of them was that it took three seasons of the show to get a hairstylist who knew how to care for and style afro hair. More importantly, this highlights the need for diversity off-screen and on-screen.
It is shocking that an actress who has worked on many famous films like Think Like A Man, Shazam, You Got Served, Anchorman 2, and Stomp The Yard still experiences natural hair ignorance. Even after 25 years in the industry, Meagan Good states that she still walks onto some sets expecting to find a hairstylist who cannot work with afro hair. As a result, she has learnt to carry her kit to do her hair herself.
It is great to see that in her fight for hair equality in Hollywood, she recently partnered with Tresemme as a selection committee member to find upcoming black female hairstylists who could benefit from a scholarship programme. In this way, she advances all black women and has paved the way for change.
Have you ever been told that your afro curls were distracting? TV actress Tia Mowry has. Famous for her TV roles in Sister Sister and Family Reunion, she is often spotted sporting her natural curls, top knots or braids. She said she was more confident in her natural hair when she was younger, as many called her curls cute. However, society forced her to straighten her hair so much that it damaged her natural curls. The behaviour of people in Hollywood also caused her to become more insecure about her natural hair.
Thankfully, her mother told her that she should not let Hollywood define her during her childhood. As she got older, she was also inspired by other black women celebrating their afro hair on social media to do her first chop in 2020. So, we should celebrate this naturalista as she will also continue to help us embrace ours, just like she has.
Being cast in a typically white role was never going to be easy, but, for Candice Patton, who plays Iris West on the CW show Flash, requesting black hair and makeup teams on set was also problematic. She revealed during a South By Southwest Panel (SXSW), she revealed that there were times in Hollywood when she did not feel beautiful as the stylist did not know how to work with her hair or skin. However, she also thought that she should not be labelled as a diva just to get what everyone else gets on set - to feel comfortable and beautiful in a role.
This also encouraged her to seek more diversity for Iris's character on screen. So in season 6 of the TV show, Iris displayed a more natural hairstyle than her usual flat-ironed look. While this might be a small win for afro hair, this type of visibility is precisely what is needed to #BreakTheBias.
As our famous afro-haired women continue to push back against discriminatory afro hair stereotypes, the fight for equality is on the rise. While International Women's day/month is necessary, we should work towards breaking the bias every day, not just once a year, regardless of our hair type or the colour of our skin.