In 1989 Compton, L.A Anna Bludso (Elle Lorraine) is a young Black Woman working as a production assistant with hopes of becoming a VJ for her music network. When her new boss, Zora (Vanessa Williams) arrives, Anna figures she has a chance to advocate for the role she wants. Yet after constant comments about her image, particularly her hair, are made a focal point as to why she is not T.V appropriate. After Zora suggests a weave to amplify her look, Anna visits Virgie (Laverne Cox) and ends up with hair with a mind of its own.
Director Justin Simien, creator and writer of the show/movie Dear White People, rose to popularity as he tackled themes of Black identity through a comedic lens. At the best of times Dear White People is endearing, relatable, and hilarious while deconstructing many upheld beliefs in our society. Bad Hair attempts to use a similar formula, but does not execute it with the same level of grace.
The title, Bad Hair, serves as a double entendre. Anna’s hair is a literal monster, while simultaneously critiquing a society that is rooted in valuing some hair types overt others. Black women are constantly subjected to racist beauty standards that centre white femininity as a pinnacle. The effects of such a standard permeate many aspects of life and can have particularly tangible repercussions in a workplace. Bad Hair represents a common experience many Black Women face with expectations for kempt, sleek, and “professional” hairstyles being synonymous with white features, including straight hair. Micro-aggressive comments, impacts to mental wellbeing, loss of financial and/or career opportunities are all common occurrences Black Women face in a professional setting.
Simien takes a satirical approach to the topic, yet balances with horrific scenes like the extremely painful and bloody experience Anna has getting her hair done. Lena Waithe as Brook-Lynne is by far the comedic highlight with funny quips throughout the films entirety.
Unfortunately, there’s a sharp turn from sporadic comedic relief to annoyingly silly by the third act. This ruins the foundation created in the beginning of the film. It seems Simien threw all his ideas out the window for the sake of playing up the ridiculousness of hair gone wild. His scope of the topic is limited, too direct, and often simplistic largely overlooking struggling body image, colourism, stereotypes, and ultimately pride that Black Women experience in relation to their hair. The audience does not need to be spoon fed a lacklustre thesis, especially if the presumable audience is Black Women. There is a line between subtlety and directness that works best when making social commentary in films. Bad Hair, started off mastering the balancing act only to drop the ball.
Ultimately, I believe the missteps largely is a result of Simien, a Black Man, having a lack of personal experience with the topic and I question why he thought this was his story to tell. The star studded cast and monstrous weave while hilarious, was used as a crutch that could not save the murky commentary
Bad Hair premieres on Hulu on October 23rd, 2020