The concept of “good hair” and “bad hair” continues to be alive and well in the Black community. From the time we are born, our hair is one of the biggest signifiers of our identity. Going back centuries, hair has always served as an indicator of class and proximity to whiteness. With the longstanding beliefs about what “good” and “bad hair” is, Black hair continues to be the center of discussion today when we still have to question if our natural hair is appropriate for the workplace. Is it professional? Why not? What does hair have to do with qualifications, skills, and intelligence? Why should our hair be a focus of professional success? This is a question that we’ll continue to ask as long as racism is still alive and well in society, especially within corporate culture.
For decades, Black hair in the workplace has been tackled in media, yet it’s never quite been shown through the lens of horror. In his sophomore feature, director and writer Justin Simien creates a commentary on Black women’s hair and the stock we tend to place in it. Set in 1989 Los Angeles, Bad Hair is the story of Anna (Elle Lorraine), an executive assistant attempting to work her way up the corporate ladder at a popular music network. When her department decides to “restructure,” she gets a weave installed by a sinister hairdresser (Laverne Cox) to appease her new boss (Vanessa Williams) and maintain her job status. However, the weave appears to take on a life of its own, taking over Anna’s very existence. At first, the weave seems to work in Anna’s favor, earning her attention from executives and male suitors, but it proves to have more evil intentions.
Over the course of the film, Anna and her coworkers struggle with a changing work environment and uphold their personal ideals. Desperately wanting to become a show host, Anna sacrifices her integrity to do so- starting with changing her hair. Little by little, her coworkers (Played by Lena Waithe and Yaani King Mondschein) begin to change too, also donning weaves and of their own.
Inspired by a tale from a fictional book called “Slave Lore,” Anna’s weave is cursed, thirsty for blood, and a human host. Little by little, it destroys everyone in its path, discarding anyone who attempts to remove it.
Mining inspiration from films such as Invasion of the Body Snatchers, a Korean horror film called The Wig, and a film called Exte (Hair Extensions), Bad Hair is stylish and easy on the eyes. Shot on Super 16-millimeter (and utilizing mostly practical effects), the film gives off an authentic campy B-movie feel. Bad Hair is never really scary and, at times, pretty comical, which is the point? The performances are decent, considering the script.
Elle Lorraine is a great lead and works great as a final girl, although I would have loved to learn more about her character. Along with Lorraine, the supporting cast is an amazing roster of talents such as Vanessa Williams, Kelly Rowland, Jay Pharoah, James Van Der Beek, Ashley Blaine Featherson, Usher, Blair Underwood, MC Lyte, and more. Too bad they’re not always used to the best of their abilities.
Not to mention, the title is taken all too literally as Bad Hair is a parade of malevolent hair and bad wigs. Whether this is intentional or not is up for interpretation.
While Bad Hair has a promising premise and satirizes a subject that’s all too familiar for Black women, the execution falls flat. Black women’s hair is a complex subject that’s more black and white than what Bad Hair paints it to be. Natural hair doesn’t always indicate good, while weaves and relaxers don’t always mean loving yourself less. Hair is messy both in actuality and metaphorically, so it can be hard to talk about without firsthand knowledge. Simien’s intentions are well-meaning, but they don’t live up to the grandiose vision he set out to portray. Additionally, with instances of sexual assault and the pitting of light-skinned women versus dark-skinned women, at times, Bad Hair may be more of a harm than a help.
Simien’s simplified message is to “Love Yourself,” but that can take various forms, regardless of whether you decide to go natural or not.