If a PhD dissertation on the beauty standards placed on black women in the 80s could keep you laughing while smacking you, it would be this movie. I say dissertation because the skillful cultural critique is not lost on anyone who has eyes to see and ears to hear. Bad Hair is a thriller-comedy that pits hair against woman on the quest to have “good hair” and be accepted. There’s blood and murder and demon-hair possession, and somehow all of that is also brilliantly funny. It’s relentlessly creepy and hilarious in so many ways. I loved it.
Director Justin Simien (Dear White People) uses this genre-crossing film to ask what price we pay for changing who we are in order to gain access to spaces, and the imbalance in society regarding who has to bend more to accommodate beauty standards. (And who sets those standards.) In Bad Hair, Anna Bludso (Elle Lorraine) gets a dream job in entertainment but decides to go through a makeover experience to meet the societal standards of beauty placed on her. You watch her relationship with her own hair evolve and the terror that strikes when her sew-in weave takes on a life of its own.
And while there are truly difficult scenes to watch—like when needle goes to scalp and blood is traded for beauty—the truly evil character in this film is not the rail-straight weave. The real demon is the normative standard of white beauty. When you scream, whether you realize it or not, you’re screaming at the horrors of white supremacy. The non-fiction character of white oppression is played by an evil weave, but make no mistake, it’s the oppression of black women that haunts the halls in this movie. Getting a sew-in weave is not moralized in the film either way, but Bad Hair does call out the unfair pressure black women have felt to hide their natural hair in order to be noticed and respected in professional America.
Like many well made horror films and thrillers, this film is made of more than just gore and jumpy moments. The good horror films sneakily usher you into a place of contemplation. And the bonus of this film is that it will make you laugh while you cringe, which seems to fit the mood of 2020 poignantly.