Hulu’s “Bad Hair” Skewers Racist Beauty Standards in a Film That’s Half Horror, Half Satire

This post was written by Dani Janae and Shelli Nicole. Spoilers below for Hulu’s Bad Hair!

Dani Janae: I’m so excited to hear your thoughts on Bad Hair!

Shelli Nicole: When I saw the ads for it I knew I wanted to talk with you about it. I wanna start by asking you why you dig horror films so much! I know you’re a fan and last year was the first time I saw your 30 days of horror films on your IG story during spooky season.

Dani Janae: I love this question: I dig horror so much because I find it to be the best medium to explore what it means to be human. Fear is such a universal and primal emotion: it shows us who we really are and what we are made of. I think it’s so versatile. Like you can have a love story in a horror film but I’ve never seen a romantic comedy or drama with horror elements, ya know? I’m also just so fascinated by what has scared people across time

Shelli Nicole: Whenever I watch horror my fascination is the actual gore. My favorite horror genres are Body & Revenge and in some way Bad Hair encompasses both. I don’t think I watch horror movies to be scared, I let thrillers and musicals do that for me.

When I first heard about Bad Hair, I actually thought it was an extended version of the short, Hair Wolf, and realized I was wrong. Then I thought it was an extended version of the Random Acts of Flyness sketch “Bad Hair” and was wrong again. Then I found out that it was by the same person behind Dear White People, queer Black writer/director, Justin Simien and kinda got excited but also nervous about it.

To me, although I watch them, shows like DWP feel like they are trying to explain the Black experience (or elements of it) to a white audience (or non-Black) and I kinda got scared this movie was going to do the same thing.

Dani Janae: I’ve never seen Dear White People so I went in to this not expecting much just because I’m not familiar with Simien’s work. I had reservations because I notoriously do not like horror comedies;I don’t mind if I laugh during a horror movie, but I feel like horror comedies lean heavy on the laughs

Shelli Nicole: So when you’re watching horror films you’re like, I’m not hear for a laugh I am here for some fear and emotions.

Dani Janae: Exactly! I’m here to be bundled up on the couch with the lights out and jumping at every sound.

Shelli Nicole: I usually arrive wanting to see body parts, blood, deep screams and tears. I lean in to the screen with an oddly sadistic smile.

So let’s get into it. Bad Hair centers on Anna (Elle Lorraine). She has a love for music and has big dreams of becoming a VJ (think back to the days of TRL). I’d like to say that I too had similar dreams so I can understand her completely. She works at a network called Culture and once their boss, Edna (Judith Scott), a natural haired and dark skinned woman, leaves the network, Zora (played by my Christmas queen Vanessa Williams), takes over. She’s lite skinned, a former supermodel and most importantly — has good hair in the form of a sew in.

Miss Zora is trying to make some changes and the first thing she suggest is for Anna and others to ditch the natural looks and go for sew ins.

What’s your relationship to wigs and weaves? You have some BEAUTIFUL tresses, I have asked several times about your twist out methods but were you always natural?

Dani Janae: I haven’t always been natural. I was until I was about 11 or so when I got my first relaxer. Before that I had my hair straightened with a hot comb and grease. I had a weave once: I got micros for a birthday and it hurt and took forever — I related to Anna’s hair sensitivity— so I never went back. I go back and forth every year about doing another big chop. I did mine my second year of college and have been growing it out since

I always wanted to get into wigs but never went there. What about you?

Shelli Nicole: I got my first relaxer around the same time as you. I begged for it and my mom finally gave in — it was fucking terrible and my mom just read her hair magazine while Shonica put the creamy crack in my hair. I’ve been completely natural for a while now, but I used to be a huge fan of sew ins. I actually still am, I just haven’t gotten one in a while. I usually wear my hair in protective styles like crochet braids but I also will do a natural blow dry and add in pieces. I love a good wig but am not nearly as good as the folks on YouTube who make it seem so easy installing them, so only wear them occasionally.

And on the topic of Anna’s hair sensitivity, lets’ talk about THAT SCENE — the one where she finally gives in and gets a sew in from Virgie, played by Laverne Cox. It was PERFECTLY filmed in my opinion.

Dani Janae: That scene for me was a perfect example of body horror, I loved it. I was so tense watching it!

Shelli Nicole: It was the type of horror I came for. It was one of the times when watching the film that I felt was specifically for Black viewers. Like, we know that pain — but to see it, to HEAR it. The braids being tightened, the hair pulling at the scalp, the tearing of the skin sometimes with the blood. It made me cringe but also made me lean in — I rewatched that scene about three times.

It was actually terrifying. What made it extra horrific was how calm the stylist was while doing it.

Dani Janae: When Anna cried “you almost done?” I felt that!

Shelli Nicole: It was like she was the killer in the horror films who happily goes around killing everyone.

Dani Janae: Yes exactly, she got very little screen time but I loved her attitude and her demeanor

Shelli Nicole: Okay, so we will talk about how the movie progresses but can we talk about the stars in this movie?!

Dani Janae: Names on top of names! When I saw Usher I yelped. I recently binged Moesha so seeing him on the screen again was a delight

Shelli Nicole: For me it was MC Lyte!

I have always had a little crush on her, that voice — phew. But so many people are in this movie. Blair Underwood, Kelly Rowland, DAWSON!

Dani Janae: Omg yes!! I like that the actress at the center wasn’t as big of a name, though I enjoyed seeing Vanessa Williams and Kelly Rowland. Also fucking James Van Der Beek.

Shelli Nicole: So as the movie goes on, Anna and her new hair start feeling themselves and she starts reaping the rewards of being a Black woman with good hair. She gets looked at kinder by the white folks, the trash nigga she was fucking wants to get back at her, and opportunities at work start to open up more. Have you found this to be true — the better your hair, the better you get treated? (Better being a word that I use terribly loosely.)

Dani Janae: Hmmm, I think I have when I was younger. I have 4c hair and I noticed once I got my relaxer people complained less about having to do my hair, I got more compliments on my looks, etc. When I went natural again I got lots of comments about how brave I was. Once at a restaurant a white woman told me she loved how ethnic I looked. As an adult I get a lot of well meaning white people that give you that “right on sister, I’m down!” Kinda attitude

Shelli Nicole: NOT ETHNIC!!!

Shelli Nicole: My mother always made sure my hair was done when I was younger, primarily because she had a lot of hair issues and bullying when she was a kid so she wanted the opposite for me, so I didn’t have issues with others but they were all coming from myself. I saw how the girls at church who were lighter skinned or had long pressed locs with cute headbands would have more boys looking at them, and didn’t get compliments from adults without some sort of caveat attached to them.

As an adult it’s mostly been white women who want to ask questions they can Google about my hair. Or, of course, think they can touch it.

But similarly to Anna in the movie, I have friends who won’t ever get a weave and prefer to stay natural. I liked that in the movie too: Lena and some of the other VJ’s were rejecting the changes that Zora wanted to put in place. But, what comes next is the part of the film that I hated and have a big problem with.

Dani Janae: Oooo do tell!

Shelli Nicole: Anna starts having a bit of issue with her hair beyond the headaches and itching and maybe starts to realize something is a bit off right? It’s obvious this is the part of the film where it’s time to start getting into some shit, and her landlord comes to collect the rent she is behind on — and while doing so attempts to rape her.

I am so done with the final girl in horror needed to be raped or sexually assaulted in some sort of way to move the story forward. In this case I hated it even more because it’s a Black woman and a dark skinned one at that. A lot of it can be connected with me having a history with sexual assault and rape but a lot of it comes from me being a lover of film and a writer, and using sexual harm to move a plot forward is lazy writing in my opinion.

There were simply so many ways they could have gotten that point across and pushed the story forward without having her be sexually assaulted.

Dani Janae: Yeah, we talk a lot in horror about how rape is used as a device to move the story forward and complicate the hero’s journey. It was an unnecessary moment, especially because the landlord had already been established as an aggressive asshole

We didn’t need him to be a rapist too (possibly a serial rapist at that).

Shelli Nicole: Exactly. They opened up this other plot line and wrapped it by having ANOTHER Black woman kind of confirm that he raped her. Yeah, he dies — but like, it still just was not needed.

Like I mentioned earlier, revenge films are my other favorite horror genre so I struggle a lot while watching because so many of them are women who have been raped or assaulted taking out their revenge. I get conflicted because I am like, ok yes — kill kill and take your power back but then I’m like, couldn’t it have just something different she is getting revenge for?

How did you feel about how the film progressed after this point?

Dani Janae: Yeah same, I always want to see women in horror have a wider arc than just getting revenge on a rapist/abuser.

I honestly felt kinda set up by the rest of the film. I thought we were gonna get more skin crawling, body horror moments but instead they introduced this possession story line. Anna’s hair basically comes to life and possesses her. The hair itself has a thirst for blood that I thought was interesting but the graphics and story just got so corny after that. I get it’s satire and is supposed to be kind of laughable but I felt like the tension in the film doesn’t carry after she kills her landlord

Shelli Nicole: Completely. I figured we were going to see more gore and that as the hair began to take more control we would really see what it could do. It started to get a little Hotep for me too but since you aren’t familiar with Simien’s work I will tell you, is not surprising.

Dani Janae: Yeah my other issue with the film was: what is it saying? You got a possessed evil weave on one side and natural hair on the other. The women that insist on staying natural meet a grim fate, they either die or never advance in their careers. It feels like Black women get caught in the crossroads. Get a weave and become an evil sellout or stay natural and never progress

Shelli Nicole: And perhaps it’s the eternal optimist in me, but haven’t we moved past that or at least made a huge fucking leap forward?

Dani Janae: Yes exactly!

Shelli Nicole: This is what I mean by Simien’s work being created and featuring Blackness but is for the education of non-Black people. It puts me at a crossroads with work like this. Like, if Simien wants to do the work of teaching non-Black folks about what our community deals with, shouldn’t I let him? Shouldn’t I want non-Black folks to be educated on Blackness from the massive issues to the mundane? And shouldn’t I be happy that it’s not only a Black person at the head who is telling the story but it’s also featuring Black people?

Dani Janae: Oh the movie also does another thing I hate: introduces Indigenous or African folklore without being specific about it. The story about the moss haired girl comes from a book of I believe African sort of fairy tales but like… where in Africa? Where’s the specificity? It also demonizes ancient cultures instead of uplifting them

Shelli Nicole: I didn’t think about that. I would have loved to know more and it felt like they were trying to make it an important focus (as it is the story behind the hair) but at every opportunity was forcing me to piece that story together from various other conversations spread out in the film.

Dani Janae: To your point: I was gonna say earlier, I’m all for black people who aren’t Tyler Perry giving other Black faces and Black voices screen time. I love when we celebrate our own, but do white people and their viewing experience always have to be called into question?

Shelli Nicole: Exactly. Towards the end I leaned heavily into the comedy and opted to focus on that. I made the decision to start watching it as the satirical horror comedy it was meant to be and started enjoying it more. The dialogue is what did it for me, the campy responses, the references to Black culture (Lena telling her co-worker she needed a new attitude after bringing up Patti Labelle took me way out) but then the actual ending in itself made me — cringe.

It wrapped up the folklore story that was introduced but now that I think back with your point in mind about the lack of detail, it leaves me with even more questions.

Before we wrap can we please acknowledge the soundtrack?!

Dani Janae: Yes it definitely succeeded on the comedy front. When Lena was giving her “I don’t want to die” speech, I was rolling. I told another friend that it succeeds as a comedy but not a horror comedy if that makes sense. I tried to come into it without my bias and just wanted to settle in for a good movie but left feeling nothing. The characters didn’t really stick with me. I forgot everyone’s name until I visited the Wikipedia page before our chat. The only thing that really struck me as the sew in scene and the soundtrack!

This soundtrack is GOLD.

I’m literally singing that song “I Get It” in my head right now

Shelli Nicole: i’ve rewatched the film a few times just to watch Kelly Rowland do hairography while being the fictional princess of Pop Soul.

Dani Janae: She was a shining spot in this movie.

Shelli Nicole: I’d also like to say that as much as I hate to admit it, Lena in overalls and a Maxine Shaw braided bob gave me a tingle or two.

And Vanessa Williams is the mean Mommi I aspire to be.

Dani Janae: LMAO, oh my god, I love that for you. Yes she was a dream! Still so fine

Shelli Nicole: Thanks bunches for giving me some of your Sunday to talk film!

Dani Janae: Thank you for spending some time with me, I loved talking with you and getting your perspective!

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Dani Janae is a poet and writer based out of Pittsburgh, PA. When she's not writing love poems for unavailable women, she's watching horror movies, hanging with her tarantula, and eating figs. Follow Dani Janae on Twitter and on Instagram.

danijanae has written 157 articles for us.

1 Comment

  1. This was so great.

    I wasn’t sold on watching Bad Hair — horror just isn’t my thing — but now I kind of want to just to be in on this conversation (and also to hear this soundtrack that everyone keeps talking about). Thanks, Shelli and Dani!

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