The latest Marvel movie, Black Panther, is making an impact on everyone that sees it. Not only does Black Panther make political references to the condition of race relations in America, its multifaceted plot attempts to explain the Black experience and challenge Black stereotypes.
One of the many powerful statements, made through the movie of a majority Black cast, is the appearance of natural hair on everyone, which is an especially delicate subject for Black women. Up until recently, Black women who revealed their natural hair were considered unkempt, unattractive and unprofessional and in certain areas of the African Diaspora people still believe this. However, in Black Panther Black women are conveyed as confident, intelligent and beautiful all while wearing natural hairstyles.
Black women with natural hair translate to a comfortable normality in the movie; they have love interests, are competent and powerful all while wearing dreadlocks, Bantu-style knots, head wraps and short Afros, which has never been supported in a blockbuster movie in this way before. Camille Friend, the lead hairstylist for Black Panther told The Cut she requested the cast come to set with natural hair and refused the use of press combs and relaxers. The choice to only use natural hairstyles by Friend is a novel concept, which only gave more credit to the movie’s undeniable connection to current political truths. The movie also supports the idea that Black women can accomplish all the things they thought they couldn’t with their natural hair.
The movie overtly unpacks the issue surrounding Black women and their natural hair. Processed and synthetic hair is still very popular with Black women as they are caught in a predicament of still wanting to meet common beauty standards. One of the most direct criticisms about wearing unnatural hair in Black Panther is when T’Challa, Okoye and Nakia are undercover; Nakia and Okoye change their hair to blend in. Nakia is wearing a more natural style while Okoye is wearing a wig that resembles more of a Caucasian hairstyle. Okoye is clearly uncomfortable wearing the wig and states several times how she does not like it and that wearing it is a “disgrace.” Later Okoye throws the wig in the face of her attacker to momentarily distract him, doing so emphasizes her disgust, and dispels any myths about wigs or unnatural hairstyles being comfortable. Actress, Danai Gurira, later told USA Today that she felt as though the removal of the wig was like, “breaking free of a certain type of bondage about what it means to fit into a convention.”
Black Panther is a movie that sheds a lot of light on concerns that are really only discussed in the Black community. The conversation around Black women being natural doesn’t usually get a lot of airtime. And to see the discourse around natural hair highlighted through a superhero blockbuster movie shows that the image of a women being natural, in her power and beautiful is becoming normalized and will hopefully make more of a regular appearance.