Sanaa Lathan, star of Netflix film Nappily Ever After, talks to Awards Daily about ridiculous beauty standards, reclaiming romantic comedies and fairy tales, and why your hair holds a lot of energy.
Snow White. Cinderella. Violet Jones?
Sanaa Lathan believes her character Violet from Netflix’s film Nappily Ever After is the kind of modern-day heroine women of all ages need.
“When you think about all of those old fairy tales, it always ends with the prince choosing her,” says Lathan. “We have literally been taught that we cannot be happy without being chosen by someone, and that’s not the whole picture. That’s why I call [Nappily Ever After] a new fairy tale.”
In the beginning of the film, we’re introduced to Violet at a young age, when her mother won’t let her jump in the pool because of what it would do to her straightened hair. When we fast-forward to the adult Violet, she’s obsessed with her hair and also with getting proposed to by her doctor boyfriend Clint (Ricky Whittle).
Letting it All Go
Violet’s turning point comes when she decides to just shave it all off, something Lathan did in real life.
“I worked with my dear friend and hairstylist, Larry Sims. I asked him, ‘Do you think my head is going to be shaped OK?’ He said, ‘Yeah it’s going to be beautiful.’”
Similar to her character, she, too, was tired of dealing with the stress of hair and beauty standards as an actress, including the trouble of finding someone on set who knows how to work with “black hair” or being forced to wear a wig.
“I was at a point in my life where I was a little exhausted with that whole thing, so it came at the right time, but it was still extremely scary. I just approached the scene as Violet. I decided beforehand I was not going to make any acting choices going into the scene; I was just going to walk into the scene with all of the circumstances of where Violet had been before and let it go and see what happens. I was just amazed by the roller coaster of emotions that had come over me. We shot 10 minutes of the scene and we kept in 4 minutes of it.”
Lathan says that just as everyone has a remedy for a cold, everyone has a hair story.
“A lot of people came up to me and said ‘Your life is going to change now that you’ve shaved your head because your hair holds a lot of old energy.’ I love the idea of that. It’s definitely been an interesting year since I shaved it. It has changed in many ways for the better. It was cathartic.”
But even though the scene worked beautifully, in a powerful moment, there was a lot of pressure to get it right.
“The day before, we took a wig and put it on my head, and I shaved it, so I could know how [to use clippers]. Sometimes if you use clippers on long hair, it’ll jam, and so it jammed a couple of times in the wig, so we figured out if it jammed, this is what we do. Everybody on set was really nervous from the camera department to hair and makeup to the producers. We all knew you can’t fuck this up,” she laughs. “I felt so supported from the crew, and my hairdresser Larry said, ‘Your head is so beautiful.’ I said, ‘You told me you knew [it would be].’ He said, ‘I didn’t know!'”
‘The Big Chop’
Hand in hand with tackling unattainable beauty standards, the film also hits on unspoken truths about the way black women are treated in society.
“We’ve kind of been told we’re not desirable or as beautiful as we are and this film addresses that through the subject of hair. We’ve been told that textured or nappy hair is not as beautiful as European tresses. That’s just a small part of a bigger message that little girls of color never got, that they were beautiful. I love that it’s reclaiming that beauty, that story for ourselves.”
Lathan says that one good thing about social media (“and I’m just saying one, because there are so many bad things about it” she laughs), is that she gets to have a pulse on how people are responding to the movie.
“I’ve gotten so many responses from women all over the world. It’s huge in Brazil. They have a huge Afro-Latino culture that has been getting the same messages, that they are not as beautiful. It’s really wonderful. It’s almost become a bit of a movement, a hair movement. I keep retweeting women who share their stories about the Big Chop, everything from positive stories to sad stories.”
But maybe in addition to cutting down ridiculous beauty standards, we’ll also sever ties with lobbing every female-driven comedy into the rom-com genre, which Nappily Ever After has found itself in, despite its highly untraditional finale.
“You can put whatever kind of hope you have for her on the ending. There’s no clear-cut way that she’s going. I think the biggest prize for Violet is that she’s fallen in love with herself. The end is almost the beginning of her journey. The movie is almost like watching her go through a metamorphosis, into the butterfly of who she’s going to end up being.”
Nappily Ever After is streaming on Netflix.