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"Bad Hair" is the Mane Attraction at Essence Fest

Justin Simien, Elle Lorriane, Lena Waithe, Laverne Cox, and Vanessa Williams joined Cori Murray, Entertainment and Talent Director for Essence Magazine, to talk all things Bad Hair.

The film which is produced, written and directed by Justin, had its premiere at Sundance this year and will be in theatres and streaming on Hulu this fall.

Set in 1989 Los Angeles, Bad Hair is about an ambitious young woman who gets a weave in order to succeed in the image-obsessed world of music television. However, her flourishing career may come at a great cost when she realizes that her new hair may have a mind of its own.

“This is a film about white supremacy, let’s not get it twisted," said Simien. It’s a fun movie. It’s a popcorn movie. It’s a thriller. But it’s also about these systems that appear like choices but aren’t really choices.”

During the panel, the cast and director spoke not only about the process of making the film but the larger conversation around the cultural history of black hair, specifically in Hollywood.

"Working in 1989, the power struggle was insisting on people within the union, and within the hair union, to get your way to get somebody who knew about black hair," said Williams. "That was something that took years to say, ‘listen you think you know how to deal with black hair and you don’t,’ and thus your hair gets fried off and no one knows what edges are, no one knows what getting in the kitchen is, nobody knew the lingo but also the technique. It’s a specific technique to work to wear black hair."

The actors also spoke to contemporary examples of discrimination towards those with natural hair, a topic addressed in the CROWN Act. The act, which was presented last year, stands for “Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair.” The law prohibits race-based hair discrimination, which is the denial of employment and educational opportunities because of hair texture or protective hairstyles including braids, locs, twists or bantu knots.

"For me, it’s so shocking that we even need to have a law," said Cox. "The fact that it is so depressing and sad that we need to have a law put in place so that people won’t be discriminated against because of their hair texture. That is bonkers."

Thought hair was the mane topic of conversation (had to), the cast took time to recognize the icon herself, Vanessa Williams and give the legend her very due flowers.

"Honestly somebody as talented and iconic as Vanessa does not have to be cool," said Simien. "But the fact is, that she is incredibly cool, and when I say cool I mean she's authentic, she's aware that she's Vanessa Williams, but she's just one of the folks on the team... She was willing to do what everyone else is doing. Get on the floor in the middle of a pile of weave and hot glue and scream and do all of the stuff without pretension."

Watch the entire conversation below and look out for Bad Hair streaming on Hulu this October.


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