Quantcast
Getty Images

Sanaa Lathan & Gabrielle Union Talk 'Nappily Ever After' & The Freedom Of Cutting Their Hair

Culture & Entertainment

Netflix held the premiere for Nappily Ever After in Los Angeles at the Harmony Gold Theater on Thursday (September 20).


Directed and produced by women of color, the film is an adaptation of the 2000 book by Trisha Thomas, and has been in development for more than ten years. Sanaa Lathan stars as the protagonist Violet, but what some may not know is that the film originally considered Halle Berry for its leading role.

"To be honest, when we thought about who to cast in this role, we thought of Sanaa. There's comedy in the movie, but it also has a lot of heart and depth, and she's just such a strong actress," co-producer Tracey Bing shared with xoNecole. "I think she's amazing in the film, as you'll see and she's very brave and she really went there. I'm really proud of her."

Nappily Ever After challenges the beauty ideals that we affix to our hair, specifically as Black women. In preparation for her role, Lathan boldly shaved her head, a decision that inspired her close friends and fellow actresses Nia Long and Gabrielle Union. Both were in attendance to support Lathan and the film.

Sanaa Lathan before, during, and after 'Nappily' transformationSanaa/Instagram

"When Sanaa told me, she was doing the film and she was shaving her head, I was like, oh my god! First of all, she has beautiful hair. And then I was like, omg she's really going for it," Long said. "This is what it is all about. She's making a social statement, but she's also reminding us to feel beautiful and be beautiful in our natural, organic state."

The journey toward self-realization, especially for Black women is an exhaustive one that takes longer for some than others. Union revealed that she didn't fully recognize her beauty outside of her hair, until this year.

"June. This June. This year when I cut it off," she revealed. "I realized I'm dope and amazing no matter what I'm doing with my hair, and my soul - the inside matches the outside. I'm dope regardless. So, when I saw my girl (Lathan), literally shave her head bald and she didn't miss a beat. Dope. Fly. Still talented. Still amazing. Still an Ivy League graduate. Still a great actress. Still everyone loved her. Still beautiful. I was like you think anyone would notice if I just cut my hair off? And I felt more dope and beautiful than I've ever felt in my life. At 45. I felt 16."

Gabrielle UnionMedia Punch/INSTARimages.com

"I'm dope and amazing no matter what I'm doing with my hair and the inside matches the outside. I'm dope regardless."

While Lathan's decision to shave her head may have inspired many, she admitted to xoNecole that she was terrified herself to do the big chop.

"I was terrified to shave it off and so surprised by the response that I got. From men and women about how beautiful they thought it was. We put so much time and energy - physical energy, mental energy, spiritual energy - into hair and when you don't have it, you have all that energy to put into other aspects of yourself. There's always this aspect of self-discovery and it's just been an adventure and I'm still on it."

Sanaa LathanGetty Images

"We put so much time and energy - physical energy, mental energy, spiritual energy - into hair and when you don't have it, you have all that energy to put into other aspects of yourself."

While it's refreshing to see Black women in Hollywood embracing our many different hairstyles, including natural, Hollywood has a long way to go before it's fully prepared to deal with Black hair off-screen. As we spoke with many of the actresses on the carpet, many of them revealed that they face ongoing challenges with hair and makeup stylists on set.

"When I walk into the hair and makeup trailer, there's not always someone there to represent me. And so, I walk around with a Ziploc filled with my own products. Because I'm nervous. I'm insecure. I don't feel comfortable," Long admitted.

Antoinette Robertson shared that while she's experienced these challenges, she's been fortunate to not have to deal with that on the Netflix set of Dear White People.

Antoinette RobertsonGetty Images

"I'll walk on set with my hair perfectly done if I don't trust someone, but our team on Dear White People - I have no issues at all. Dontay (Savoy) wants to take care of our hair. He cares about the integrity of our hair. I've gone to other sets where they don't necessarily care or place as much. They don't give us as much attention, because they're like oh it's done," she said. "I just feel like it's a lack of effort or interest sometimes, and that makes us feel bad a lot. So, I feel like I've learned I know how to do my foundation myself, just in case and know how to do my hair, because sometimes we're an afterthought."

The challenges in rejecting the Euro-centric hairstyles that have been projected onto us as the "beauty standard" are not just specific to Black women. Danielle Lyn, who stars in the film as Violet's co-worker, shared some of the issues she's faced as a Filipino actress.

"When I went back to the Philippines, I realized that colorism exists. When I was there I recognized that pin straight hair, no frizz, very European 'throwback to colonization' was their definition of beauty," she continued. "This conversation is so overdue. Because it's worldwide."

Sanaa Lathan, Gabrielle Union, Nia Long, Robinne Lee at Special Screening of "Nappily Ever After" Getty Images

Nappily Ever After tackles issues surrounding Black beauty and much more through Lathan's character and her journey toward self-discovery. The film is hilarious, and has its moments that are all too familiar for young Black women. i.e. the many hot comb scenes with Lynn Whitfield.

So, at the end of this, what is the message that the cast and its filmmakers want Black women to take away from the film?

"That they should love themselves as they are. We're beautiful as we are. Our hair doesn't define us. This is a romantic comedy that's about falling in love with yourself. And we need to really pass along that message to our children," Bing explained.

"We're beautiful as we are. Our hair doesn't define us."

Long added, "I really feel proud of this, because I want people who don't understand the journey to have a learning moment. I'm just excited to know there's a message right now happening on Netflix that explores the journey of black women and their hair."

Nappily Ever After is streaming now on Netflix. Share your thoughts and hair journey with us on social media @xoNecole.

Featured image by Getty Images

Before she was Amira Unplugged, rapper, singer, and a Becoming a Popstar contestant on MTV, she was Amira Daughtery, a twenty-five year-old Georgian, with aspirations of becoming a lawyer. “I thought my career path was going to lead me to law because that’s the way I thought I would help people,” Amira tells xoNecole. “[But] I always came back to music.”

A music lover since childhood, Amira grew up in an artistic household where passion for music was emphasized. “My dad has always been my huge inspiration for music because he’s a musician himself and is so passionate about the history of music.” Amira’s also dealt with deafness in one ear since she was a toddler, a condition which she says only makes her more “intentional” about the music she makes, to ensure that what she hears inside her head can translate the way she wants it to for audiences.

“The loss of hearing means a person can’t experience music in the conventional way,” she says. “I’ve always responded to bigger, bolder anthemic songs because I can feel them [the vibrations] in my body, and I want to be sure my music does this for deaf/HOH people and everyone.”

A Black woman wearing a black hijab and black and gold dress stands in between two men who are both wearing black pants and colorful jackets and necklaces

Amira Unplugged and other contestants on Becoming a Popstar

Amira Unplugged / MTV

In order to lift people’s spirits at the beginning of the pandemic, Amira began posting videos on TikTok of herself singing and using sign language so her music could reach her deaf fans as well. She was surprised by how quickly she was able to amass a large audience. It was through her videos that she caught the attention of a talent scout for MTV’s new music competition show for rising TikTok singers, Becoming a Popstar. After a three-month process, Amira was one of those picked to be a contestant on the show.

Becoming a Popstar, as Amira describes, is different from other music competition shows we’ve all come to know over the years. “Well, first of all, it’s all original music. There’s not a single cover,” she says. “We have to write these songs in like a day or two and then meet with our producers, meet with our directors. Every week, we are producing a full project for people to vote on and decide if they’d listen to it on the radio.”

To make sure her deaf/HOH audiences can feel her songs, she makes sure to “add more bass, guitar, and violin in unique patterns.” She also incorporates “higher pitch sounds with like chimes, bells, and piccolo,” because, she says, they’re easier to feel. “But it’s less about the kind of instrument and more about how I arrange the pattern of the song. Everything I do is to create an atmosphere, a sensation, to make my music a multi-sensory experience.”

She says that working alongside the judges–pop stars Joe Jonas and Becky G, and choreographer Sean Bankhead – has helped expand her artistry. “Joe was really more about the vocal quality and the timber and Becky was really about the passion of [the song] and being convinced this was something you believed in,” she says. “And what was really great about [our choreographer] Sean is that obviously he’s a choreographer to the stars – Lil Nas X, Normani – but he didn’t only focus on choreo, he focused on stage presence, he focused on the overall message of the song. And I think all those critiques week to week helped us hone in on what we wanted to be saying with our next song.”

As her star rises, it’s been both her Muslim faith and her friends, whom she calls “The Glasses Gang” (“because none of us can see!”), that continue to ground her. “The Muslim and the Muslima community have really gone hard [supporting me] and all these people have come together and I truly appreciate them,” Amira says. “I have just been flooded with DMs and emails and texts from [young muslim kids] people who have just been so inspired,” she says. “People who have said they have never seen anything like this, that I embody a lot of the style that they wanted to see and that the message hit them, which is really the most important thing to me.”

A Black woman wears a long, salmon pink hijab, black outfit and pink boots, smiling down at the camera with her arm outstretched to it.

Amira Unplugged

Amira Unplugged / MTV

Throughout the show’s production, she was able to continue to uphold her faith practices with the help of the crew, such as making sure her food was halal, having time to pray, dressing modestly, and working with female choreographers. “If people can accept this, can learn, and can grow, and bring more people into the fold of this industry, then I’m making a real difference,” she says.

Though she didn’t win the competition, this is only the beginning for Amira. Whether it’s on Becoming a Popstar or her videos online, Amira has made it clear she has no plans on going anywhere but up. “I’m so excited that I’ve gotten this opportunity because this is really, truly what I think I’m meant to do.”

The daily empowerment fix you need.
Make things inbox official.

Today is Malcolm X’s birthday. As an icon of Black liberation movements, his words are often rallying cries and guideposts in struggle. In 2020, after the officers who executed Breonna Taylor were not charged with her murder, my timeline was flooded with people reposting Malcolm’s famous quote: “The most disrespected person in America is the Black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the Black woman. The most neglected person in America is the Black woman.”

Keep reading...Show less

As her fame continues to rise, Tiffany Haddish has remained a positive light for her fans with her infectious smile and relatable story. Since Girls Trip, fans have witnessed the comedian become a modern-day Cinderella due to the many opportunities that have come her way and the recognition she began to receive.

Keep reading...Show less

We’ve all been there: Exhausted, lacking motivation, on edge, or simply not feeling like working at all. And we might have even used up all of our sick days, not to rest from a cold or injury, but just to get a bit of relief from those job or business responsibilities. Sometimes, you're not able to shake that nagging feeling of gloom, eventually finding yourself in a toxic pattern of unhealthy habits and behaviors. There's a larger issue that goes way beyond just needing a break.

Keep reading...Show less

CultureCon is one of the top conferences for creative people of color to attend to meet fellow changemakers. The event, which is presented by the Creative Collective NYC, has attracted some of our favorite entertainers as keynote speakers such as Tracee Ellis Ross, Chloe x Halle, Michael B. Jordan, and many more.

Keep reading...Show less
Exclusive Interviews

Exclusive: Jay Ellis Shares ‘Full-Circle’ Moment With His Parents & His Self-Care Ritual

Staying grounded is one of the actor's biggest priorities.

Latest Posts