Justin Simien’s most recent creative effort Bad Hair espouses the horror/science fiction genre with race commentary. The film follows Annie, a black female protagonist who wants to make something of herself in the vain media subculture of an anti-black world. When the corporate plantation receives a new overseer, the stakes of Annie’s upward mobility become far more invested in the evolving hair culture. The film, set in the 1980s, captures the beginning of a hair movement that presently frames much of what operates as black female beauty. Of course, what I am talking about here are weaves.
After gaining a recommendation from her new boss, Zora (Vanessa Williams), Annie gets a weave that quickly proves murderous. Annie’s “killer weave” murders the landlord that tries to socially assault her, an ex-lover who coldly discards Annie to sleep with their boss Zora, and the black women who try to steer Annie toward a “natural” path, appears a meditation on weave as “dead energy,” to employ the phrase that Annie’s naturalista comrade employs to conceptualize weave before she too gives into its social promise of sewn-in systemic favor.
Weaves as inducing a zombie-like state to the black women who wear them, is a provocative departure from a phrase spoken several times throughout the film: “It’s just hair.”
In a perfect world, it would just be hair, but in this anti-black space, hair is a social reflection of systemic positionality. It is more than just a political statement, it is a personal statement that one makes without even opening their mouths. For these reasons, the part in the film where Vanessa William’s character’s weave becomes a noose that hangs her could not be more accurate. Besides masking the natural length and texture bestowed onto the black woman as jewels on her crown, weaves embody a systemic noose that though worn on a black woman’s head is often indicative of what is stealthy around her neck.
The film connects hair to witchcraft with the story that lies in the film’s backdrop. In the film’s backdrop, is the moss-haired girl who uses a seaweed substance to don what she called “hair like massa.” This depiction posits the hairstylist as a conjure woman which layers the connection between enslavement and the present and weave and witchcraft by positing white supremacy as encapsulating the violent voodoo too often displaced onto black cultural beliefs.
Hair as reprimanding the black pursuit of proximity to white supremacy appears progressive, though this idea is easily countered given that Annie’s hair not only murders her white assailants but murders the black female mentor that rewarded her natural look with opportunity.
Simien appears to follow in actor, producer, and writer Tyler Perry’s footsteps by producing what appears to be for the black woman but actualizes his quest to become one. By “becoming the black woman,” I reference a common praxis often masked by the “creativity” of drag culture or the sword of the pen to live vicariously through the black woman.
I say this not to shame Simien’s (or Tyler Perry’s) sexuality or black male affiliation with the black female experience. I also do not wish to discount that as a black man, the black woman is an integral force in the shapings and makings of Simien’s life as a black man. The black female hair experience in a racist society is a unique experience that though encapsulating the essence of anti-black racism, launches a collective attack through the black woman.
I say this to say, that there is a way Simien could have illustrated this dynamic as a black man. His selected method, however, proves more in line with the ways of non-blacks. Thus, Simien’s narrative highlights how black femininity continues to be both an entryway and a microphone for those who do not lust for the oppression idioscynscratic to her identity, but for the the enthralling narrative that it promises to produce. Whether a Vice President or protagonist, the black woman remains a vessel that betrays what seems to be black female centrality as vested in manifesting the destiny and motives of those adjacent to the intricacies of her experience. For this reason, Simien proves synonymous with the bewitched hair in the film that zombifies the black woman so that she can be inhabited by external forces seeking to actualize ulterior motives.