NAPPILY EVER AFTER: A THINK PIECE
I’ve watched Sanaa Lathan play a variety of colorful characters on the big screen throughout the years, so I wasn’t surprised when she was cast to star in the romantic comedy, Nappily Ever After. I was surprised, however, to learn that she fully immersed herself in the ‘no hair don’t care’ club, because let’s face it: a black woman’s hair is her crown and glory. It’s what defines her beauty. Her mother and grandmother probably taught her that hair (especially longer) is the epitome of femininity. But as a grown ass woman, freethinker, choice and decision maker, I remember standing on my tiptoes, screaming “gloraaay, Sanaa! You betta…” when I learned that she actually shaved off her real hair, y’all! For like, for real for real! Oh, the anticipation of the film’s release date!
Red wine (Olivia Pope style) and popcorn in tow, I made a comfy seat on my couch, because, duh: Nappily Ever After was sure to be the ‘IT’ movie of the season! In Act 1 Scene 1, we’re introduced to Miss Perfect America, young Violet Jones, who so desperately wants to dive (without a swim cap) into the pool with the white kids from the playground. Now, we all know how water can wreak havoc on a black woman’s hair, but damn. Can little Violet live? Where are her cornrows for swimming? Where is her swim or shower cap? The camera then cuts to her stern-faced mama, and I already know where the cloth fell. There’s a history of family pathology called, perfectionism happening here, and it already looks as if things won’t end too well for little Violet.
Act 2 Scene 2 introduces us to grownup Violet, who actually hasn’t really “grown” much at all. Her primary concern is to bait and catch the man (presumably) holding a wedding ring and the key to the white picket fence. We watch Ms. Violet prance through the streets without a hair out of place, and I wonder if she’s really comfortable in her own skin, or if it’s a facade hiding behind her perfectly flat ironed hair. I went with the latter: as a woman in power, Violet doesn’t know who she really is. Like, girl. Why is your mama sneaking to the house in the middle of the night to give you a press and curl? Anytime you are afraid to let your significant other see you in your natural habitat, there is sure to be a deeper underlying issue. I’m about 17.5 minutes in, and I’m already looking at her and her mama like they batshit crazy.
So, here’s the thing: we as women have the emotional, intuitive power to sense when something’s just not right. Whether it’s unhappiness with our careers, lack of self-esteem and worth, the guy in our life who seems shady, or the toxic friends and family we continue to hold dear because of guilt. We have the intuitive power to say enough is enough, but instead, we hold on to what’s comfortable: the dude who won’t commit, the dead-end job, the friend who never shows up! We even hold on to our hair, because for so long, it has defined our beauty. We are our hair. So, here’s Violet screaming her face off in the beauty salon, because of course, we were taught that losing or cutting our hair is the death of our womanhood and being. What we see happen in the beauty salon is the same exact behavior we saw from Violet’s mother in the beginning of the film at the swimming pool. That’s that lethal family pathology that I’m talking about, and Violet gets it from her mama.
All of that, and surprise, surprise - she didn’t even get the ring. She undergoes a classic, and emotional breakdown of both the loss of her relationship with ol’ boy and herself. It’s about an hour’s worth of unadulterated melodrama of finding one’s self until the big chop. I shaved off all of my hair about 4 years ago in celebration of my newly defined self, (read about my journey on POPSUGAR Beauty here) so I was disappointed to learn that Violet had shaved her head in sheer rage, fear and contempt of her status in life. She and I are very different in that sense. Violet was fed up, and I was gratified. And just like Violet’s mama, my mama passed out too, but the difference is that when you stand strong in your choices, everyone else (including our parents) will eventually fall in line. Thankfully, we witness this later in the film.
I loved watching Violet go back to work with a new attitude and outlook. The way people responded to her was all too familiar, and I wondered why it struck such a nerve in me. You can be the most beautiful, successful, confident woman on the planet – and folks will still find fault, or reasons not to like you. I taught myself to keep living anyway, and I celebrated Violet doing the same. I wish the script didn’t include her finding a new love interest. That angle seemed like an attempt to fill a void outside of herself, instead of within herself. And what’s Violet’s poor mama to do with a spiteful ex-husband - and bald daughter with a broke new beau? Oh, the shame! It was just a matter of time before we witnessed Violet falling back into her old habits. And, boy, did we.
Going back to ol’ boy who gifted her with Snoopy instead of a ring was painful to watch. And for what? Only for him to project the ideology of perfectionism back into her life – and blatantly ask her to straighten her natural hair?! Boy, bye. I felt like all the work she had done on herself went straight out the window. Maybe it’s because I’ve been there. Maybe it’s because I, too, have learned a plenty of hard lessons, only to fall back into the same old pattern familiarity. Oh, Ms. Violet. We were all rooting for you.
For me, the most powerful scene was towards the end of the film when she jumped into the swimming pool at her (fake) engagement party. And although mama was forced to jump in too, it showed me that old ways of thinking about our hair, our relationships with others, and the relationship we have with ourselves, may not be beneficial for the long haul. Rebirth is the name of the game, y’all. I’ll admit that I wanted more from at the end of her story, but I think Violet taught us that learning to authentically love ourselves for who we really are is a lifelong journey. And if we do it without the dependency, or affirmation of others, well…that just makes it a happily ever after.
Have you guys seen the film? What did you think?