2017 is the year when we were finally able to find the perfect foundation match with the help of an app (and also Rihanna), and unlock our iPhones with our faces — among a long list of other advances. Despite all of those gains, though, there's still one real-life feat that hasn't been achieved: total freedom for people with natural hair and protective styles to wear their hair at school and at work without backlash.
Thankfully, there's been some progress — in January, the U.S. Army lifted its ban on dreadlocks and two-strand twists. But the war wages on in Hollywood, and Gabrielle Union is still fighting. The actress and author of We're Going to Need More Wine revealed that she's received pushback from producers for wanting to wear her own twists on camera.
"I was doing a project and with the character the producers were coming up with what they wanted to do for her hair," she said in a recent interview with Byrdie. "And they were like, She’s beautiful, sophisticated, and professional. I was like, Well, I want to wear braids."
She says that the producers then replied, "Well, I mean, she’s beautiful, sophisticated, and corporate America," So she repeated her request. "Yes and specifically, I want twists. And they went on to say, We just really want her to look more polished. I said, You all really don't understand what are we talking about here?"
Larry Sims, Union's longtime hairstylist, has seen these interactions firsthand. "There have been times where she has had to fight for a certain style for certain roles. Her hair always looks professional. The push is more about creative direction," he tells Refinery29.
Of course, this is something that occurs in print, too. Solange and Lupita Nyong'o have both had their beautiful curls and natural styles Photoshopped out of recent magazine covers. "There's a larger conversation with people of color when it comes to our hair and our skin color," Union told Byrdie, in response to these incidents. "People will try to lighten our skin tones and alter our hair, which says a lot of about how we feel about ourselves versus how other people feel about our blackness and textured hair. We need to showcase the fullness of our beauty."
Union hopes to change the conversation — especially regarding natural hair in the workplace — with her own roles, like the title character of Being Mary Jane. In the series, her character MJ admits that she wears a weave to assimilate at work, wears her hair wrapped, cuts it, and will possibly (and finally) show her true texture during the series finale next year. "We always want to push the envelope and change people's perspective on what is acceptable," Sims tells us of the title character's evolution. "This last season, Mary Jane had an edgy choppy cut. It's something that you wouldn't see traditionally from a newscaster. Their hair is usually specific and straight."
Coincidentally, Union is at a place where she feels ready to do the same as MJ in real life. As she once told us: "I plan on [wearing my natural hair] more often, because I want to show... that as much as I wear weaves and extensions, I've been treating my own hair with as much care as possible."
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