“Bad Hair” is a Campy Yet Scary Look at the Indoctrination of Western Culture’s Beauty Standards

In cultures throughout history and around the world, hair has been a status symbol, a source of pride and even a form of currency. For many Black people, women in particular, hair can be a source of contention, anxiety and a basis for stereotypes and discrimination (just look at this year’s CROWN Act movement). That is what is at the heart of Justin Simien‘s new horror satire “Bad Hair.”

The film follows an ambitious young woman, Anna (Elle Lorraine), who in 1989 works in the image-obsessed music television industry. After the network goes through a regime change (and essentially is
“gentrified”), Anna has to figure out how to fit into the new work culture and the changing world around her in order to succeed. Anna is “natural” by the way. But in order to make an impression on her new boss Zora (Vanessa Williams) she must conform to a more Western European beauty standard — meaning long, silky straight hair and less of an afro-centric flair (a.k.a. “more palatable for white folks”). She is torn between staying true to herself and her convictions and climbing the corporate ladder and hopefully making it in front of the camera one day (and it doesn’t help that she had a bad hair experience with an at-home relaxer when she was a little girl).

Anna finally caves and gets a weave from the same celebrity beauty salon that Zora recommended (and the backstory for that salon and their supply chain is deep). It’s expensive and painful but things start to align in her favor at work because of it. But just as things start going well professionally, things in other aspects of her life take a crazy turn and becomes the stuff of a horror story — very “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” Will Anna let this new look consume her?? The title does not refer to the quality of hair — its not referencing whether its kinky or bone straight, long or short — but literally “bad” as evil hair (even though there are times when I feel like mine is evil on my “bad hair days” when it has a mind of its own and doesn’t want to cooperate).

As a Black woman who used to be addicted to the creamy crack (relaxers) back in high school (I’ve been natural for at least 15 years now), the pain of a relaxer is a horror all unto itself. We all have hair scars and horror stories. We’ve all been in those situations where we couldn’t get our hair wet — like it was a Gremlin or something. There is a love-hate relationship with our hair — it is a point of pride and often times an extension of ourselves that we sometimes feel we have to “tame” in order to succeed (but not anymore, I’m all about the big hair now — and I don’t mean hairspray). That is what is at the heart of this film — and it definitely brought back some painful memories (like the one time I got a weave and had an allergic reaction to the hair SMH).

Justin Simien knocked this one out the park — it was campy, over the top and funny but still had a serious message about self-love, beauty standards and being Black and proud. “Bad Hair” also weaved in (pun intended) ancestral superstitions, slave lore and fairytales and touched on how colonizers use that against a people to subjugate them and portray them as savages — the indoctrination of Western culture — and the erasure of their heritage and culture. And don’t get me started on the cast — the cast was on point! Elle Lorraine who plays Anna was perfectly cast. Vanessa Williams seemed made for this role. Jay Pharaoh was spot on. Nicole Byer and Lena Waithe‘s characters were hilarious. And its dope that Simien used some of his “Dear White People” cast members in this one as well (Ashley Blaine Featherson & DeRon Horton). And then there was Kelly Rowland, Usher, MC Lyte, Blair Underwood, Robin Thede, Laverne Cox and James Van Der Beek (some pretty big names) who rounded out this solid cast — and everyone looked like they were having fun and enjoying themselves.

Writer/director Justin Simien did a superb job of bringing these characters to life, making this relatable and timely yet still a fun and engaging watch. The music, visuals and effects had a fun ’70s and ’80s horror feel to it. And that wardrobe — A+. How far will you go to achieve your dreams? Do you wear your hair or does it wear you??? And don’t say I didn’t warn you — if you’re tender-headed, proceed with caution LOL.

“Bad Hair” is currently streaming on Hulu.