Vanessa L. Williams, Elle Lorraine and Laverne Cox explain how the Hulu film relates to their own experiences in Hollywood.
Now streaming on Hulu, Bad Hair is the latest timely and topical project from filmmaker and creator of Dear White People, Justin Simien. Described as a horror satire, the film tells the story of Anna (Elle Lorraine), an ambitious young woman working in the image-obsessed world of the late-1980s music television industry who gets a weave that may have a mind of its own.
In addition to the newcomer, who is described by co-star Lena Waithe as the “Black Mia Farrow,” the ensemble film also stars Blair Underwood, Jay Pharoah, Kelly Rowland, Laverne Cox, Michelle Hurd, Robin Thede and Vanessa L. Williams.
The idea was inspired by Simien’s discovery of Asian hair-possession horror movies, like the 2005 South Korean film The Wig. But in order to translate something like that for U.S. audiences, Simien knew he had to root it in the Black, female experience and show how they are controlled by a capitalist system. “This is my way of writing a love letter about all of the BS that Black women have to go through,” Simien tells ET.
Bad Hair is particularly poignant, especially now that a few states across the country have passed laws that prohibit discrimination based on hair style and hair texture. For Williams, who plays a tough boss to please named Zora, it’s something she’s experienced throughout her career. “You still get discriminated against even now, in this day and age, in terms of corporate America,” she says, thankful for laws like California’s Crown Act, especially after seeing one of her own daughters being told their hair “was too ethnic looking.”
And what Bad Hair does is show the sinister side of show business and the harmful sacrifices one makes to meet impossible demands in order to rise to stardom. In Anna’s case, it’s being forced to get a weave similar to her idol, Sandra (Kelly Rowland playing a Janet Jackson, Jody Watley-inspired R&B superstar), who previously underwent a dramatic transformation to boost her success. However, the weave proves to be evil, as it slowly takes over Anna’s body and forces her to commit horrible crimes all while giving her the leg up she needed at work.
Sandra’s journey even echoes what Williams went through early in her career. “I lived in 1989. I had an album out back in the day, so I knew that world,” she says, adding that her character only perpetuates that problem by being “enticing enough to make [Anna] want to change her appearance in order to get ahead, which so many of us have done in our lifetimes to move to the next step in our careers.”
Unfortunately, not much has changed since Williams first got started, with Lorraine being told to “get a weave very quickly to be part of this industry” not long after moving to Los Angeles. “I was also told I needed to smile a certain way in order to be pretty and presentable on camera. So, throughout the early days and early years, I was being chipped away at,” she recalls.
For Cox, who flips her Emmy-nominated role as imprisoned hairdresser Sophia Burset on Orange Is the New Black by playing the mysterious Virgie, who gives Sandra the killer weave, the film is also an opportunity for healing. “An opportunity to have an exorcism around this intersection of white supremacy and capitalism and the psychological drama it can have on Black women,” she says.
Her comments echo much of what was running through Simien’s mind when creating Bad Hair. Even when putting the cast together, he made sure everyone shared in the same deep, passionate conversation about “what this movie would mean and how it will serve the social conversation happening right now.”
At the end of the day, Bad Hair is a critique of white supremacy and the way that something natural and beautiful is being used to control people, the filmmaker asserts. “I sort of can’t help that as an artist. Like, that is to me one of the most urgent issues facing us.”
Simien concludes, “I wanted to point out that, like, Black folks and Black women in particular are just given less choices of how to be in the world. And that, to me, is actually horrifying.”