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