Short Hairs

During last Monday’s Oscar Poker Sasha Stone and I got into a little back-and-forth about Viola Davis‘s Denzel Washington/Malcolm X cut. She said at one point that ‘fros are making a comeback these days, at least among teenage girls, and I said “but why?…to what end?”

Today she sent along a post from forharriet.com, and a quote that reads as follows: “Our personal guides for aesthetic liberation need not be famous women. Do you have a Viola Davis in your own life? Maybe you are someone’s Viola Davis.”

To which I replied, “Maybe you are someone’s Angela Davis. Break out the ‘fro, girl!

Here’s how it went from that point on….

Sasha: “Hah! You and I both stepped into it talking about it because neither of knows enough about the subject. But I dug [Viola's] ‘fro. It was like a big FUCK YOU to Hollywood.”

Me: “Well, I know what I know. African American-identity-wise, the ’60s and ’70s were a time of rocks and Molotovs, up against the wall, revolutionary attitudes, riots, Stokely Carmichael and the Black Panthers, etc. Among the militant set ‘I’m black and I’m proud’ went hand in hand with no kowtowing whatsoever to the glossy, glamoured, glitzy Diana Ross or Dionne Warwick approach to female beauty. So Angela Davis and her legions broke out the ‘fro, and that lasted for…what, six or seven years? Less?

“What’s going on now to fortify what you were calling the New 21st Century ‘fro? What ‘s happening politically or culturally to augment this new African-American Naturalism, which you say is breaking out in schools? I don’t see anything out there except style for style’s sake. Last Sunday I just saw Viola breakin’ out the Malcolm X/Denzel Washington reddish-brownish hair because it’s closer to the real her. It makes her less attractive to me, but more attractive to herself and perhaps to many thousands of women who feel similarly about their appearance…who knows? If you ask me it’s a fringe thing.”

Sasha: “Why does [her Denzel-Malcolm hair] make her less attractive? I think it’s lovely. But maybe because when I was a kid I had a Jamaican stepfather who taught us about racism pretty early on. My sister and I would braid our hair at night so that when we went to school we would have kinky hair like our black classmates. Our favorite movie was Cooley High. Anyway, I’ve always had kink envy. My daughter’s best friend has a great fro, as does her mom, but they both straighten them and wear wigs to fit in and be more attractive in white culture.

“It is more than fashion, I think, for black women. It’s an obliteration of a trademark made ‘okay’ by Oprah. And a source of shame, I think, for black girls growing up in our culture. In the 1970s the fro was a powerful thing. I love it that Davis did that. As I just wrote on my site it was like a big old ‘I DON’T GIVE A SINGLE FUCK.'”

Me: “Short tight hair is a huge turnoff for 98% of the guys out there. Make it 99%. Guys wants soft, luscious hair with length and body, shampoo-fresh and smelling like lilacs and all that good stuff. Viola doesn’t give a fuck? Okay, fine. But she’ll never play Brad Pitt’s maid whom he has an affair with if she plays it that way. She herself said she wants ‘that perfect part’…that’s her whole life, her big ambition. If she mans herself up with short hair she’s taking herself out of the running for a lot of stuff. Just sayin’.”

Sasha: “Yeah but guess what? Her career doesn’t have be defined by whether Brad Pitt wants to fuck her or not. And to play his maid? Oh, could she be so lucky to play Brad Pitt’s maid? Are you serious? There is a whole world out there ready to accept women in all different sorts of ways. Reality check: the Academy oldsters are the backwards, out of touch, pampered, insulated group of people whose taste is so bad most people think of them the way they do their own grandparents whose tastes must be condescended to over and over again. Who were the main group of people who weren’t afraid to call out War Horse for being a stinking pile? The women! The men, when it comes to choosing greatness in art, aren’t the last word and they aren’t the smartest, necessarily.

“If actresses had to always worry that they weren’t fuckable for old white guys, believe me, our films would freefall into the shit pile. Actually, they already have. And anyway, are you really going to tell me that, if given the choice between Meryl Streep and Viola Davis, any grown male with an erection isn’t going to pick Davis?”

“I think that’s a weak argument. If she really wants to win an Oscar, yeah, she has to dumb herself way down to match the puny reptilian IQs of most male Academy voters. But if she wants to say something bigger than that, if she wants to truly be powerful, she will fight against the status quo. And more power to her.”

Me: “You can call it a weak argument, but for the most part men pay to see movies starring women they want to do it with…sorry. Failing that, they pay to see movies starring actresses they know are top-of-the-line great and masters of their craft, which is where Davis comes in. But she’s limiting her options if she wants to butch up. You know it and I know it. A remake of Too Beautiful For You would be a very touching, very original, very high-end thing. Don’t make fun of that concept. Oh, and I applaud the bloc of women critics who stood against War Horse. Hats off.”

Sasha: “Jeff, you’re so funny. I don’t think Viola was butching up. I thought she looked hot and beautiful and way sexier than any of the stick figures who were walking the carpet. Why would you want to rest your body on the body of a little boy, moreover…a bag of skin and bones? I wouldn’t. If I were a guy I’d much rather sink into a woman’s body with actual curves like Davis has. I think her hair looks great like that. The wigs are okay but they always say to me, ‘I’m trying to white-ify myself.'”

“And fine if you want to kiss the ass of dinosaurs — have at it. I would rather see them give Davis a part where she could act, not as Brad Pitt’s maid but as a woman with an actual identity beyond that which appeals only to men. I’m tired of the dinosaurs. We’ve had enough of them. They need to step aside now because they’re ruining Hollywood.”

  • Jesse Crall

    Glad you posted this, because it’s an interesting topic. Yeah, from a sexual standpoint, long flowing straight highlighted soft downy hair is my personal ideal and Jeff’s 99% number doesn’t seem like an exaggeration at all. But if Davis feels more comfortable with her own hair…

    The sexually attractive end with actors can work on both sides, though. Would Pitt/Clooney/DiCaprio be nearly as successful if they didn’t style it up in real life? Pitt can have the 50’s dad haircut in Tree of Life, Clooney can gain weight in Syriana, DiCaprio can do both in J. Edgar and wear dark contacts but women know what they look like on GQ or in Access Hollywood and look past it. Davis, or any other actress, can probably play tougher de-glammed roles in films IF they project an attractive look in real life. I’m not saying that’s a good thing, or that Davis can’t be seen as stylish with her natural hair. But I dunno, there are only so many Paul Giamattis and Judy Dench’s out there getting great roles without sex appeal, and neither one is black.

  • Mark

    Sasha, why is this a “fuck you” thing? How do you go from a positive portrayal and acceptance of one’s god-given gene to “fuck you, Academy!!!”

    I don’t see anything 70’s militant in this at all, and not sure why Jeffrey is looking for that angle. As far as “What’s going on now to fortify what you were calling the New 21st Century ‘fro?” the answer is the recession. If you have no idea how much a weave costs, then watch Chris Rock’s doc on the subject and your jaw will drop.

    The 21st century black girl’s weave was not really about whitening themselves, but rather a proud tangible mark that they could now afford such status. It’s the same as when black men would get all blinged out in diamonds after their first contract. Now with the recession that trend is seen as cheesy and has died out, like the weave is.

  • Super Soul

    “men pay to see movies starring women they want to do it with”

    This sounds….vaguely familiar.

  • Cadavra

    Some women look great with short hair, others with long. All depends on the individual.

    I didn’t even recognize Davis in her new ‘do…and I’m not crazy about it. Just feels wrong for her face. But that’s just me.

  • Gabe@ThePlaylist

    Oh, good, a relevant topic.

  • Raising_Kaned

    White movie bloggers on black hair…is there a subject they’re less informed on?

    Well, maybe changing car tires…

  • Raising_Kaned

    Is it wrong that when Sasha notes that she has “kink envy,” I automatically envisioned her jealous of being tied up in bed?

    Probably.

  • Raising_Kaned

    Up next on the Paradox Channel: NAACP’s week-long appreciation of Kenny G.

  • Ray

    Super Soul is on to something. Honestly it’s time for an Oliver Stone conspiracy theory about our two, ummmmmm, *favorite* authors.

    How do we know he’s NOT Mel Torme?

  • Ray

    On topic about a year ago I caught HBO running the Chris Rock documentary “Good Hair” all about black women’s obsession with hair. Straighteners, relaxers, weaves, fros, nappy head, etc., etc. All the politics and culture and racial stuff delivered with a light touch and some funny Rock lines.

    If Jeff and Sasha can spend THIS long talking about the subject, then I’d be interested in their take on the documentary.

  • Raising_Kaned

    Final thought: the “women hate War Horse” thing is baffling to me — where on Earth does Sasha come to this conclusion??

    The fact of the matter is there really aren’t even enough female film critics to not run into sample size problems when comparing the genders’ overall reactions to movies (a fact that’s pretty sad in and of itself, really).

  • Glenn Kenny

    I believe Jimi Hendrix put it best when he said, “White collar conservative [that's you, Jeff] flashing down the street/pointing their plastic finger at me/they’re hoping soon my kind will drop and die/But I’m gonna wave my freak flag high, HIGH!”

    Also, white male Alex Chlton, in the song “Take It Off,” from his classic LP “High Priest:” “Take off your wig/and lemme FEEL your afro.” THERE was a white fella knew how to get freaky. Never thought that with all his rebellious posing Jeff would be so eager to admit his Wonder Bread tastes in these matters. What a drag.

  • Alex Stroup

    I thought she looked great and I hope that natural hair makes at least something of a comeback.

    But then maybe I had that implanted young as the first time I became aware of the issue of black women straightening their hair was as a teenager reading Malcolm X rail against it in The Autobiography of Malcolm X.

  • Sasha Stone

    “White movie bloggers on black hair…is there a subject they’re less informed on?”

    Haha. SO TRUE. But you can’t shut us up when we get going. One thing I love about Jeff and appreciate about him: he’s naturally curious and inquisitive. That makes fun to talk to about stuff, fun to argue with. So sue me.

    Yeah, the female critics were the ONLY ones who properly called out War Horse for what it was.

  • http://fromthefrontrow.net Matthew Lucas

    I don’t think female critics were the ONLY ones who called out WAR HORSE. I certainly called it out in my review, as did Jeff, and I read several reviews from male critics who also derided it for the same reasons.

  • Jesse Crall

    I looked on Metacritic. There wasn’t much of a gender gap with War Horse.

  • Gridlock

    She has more real hair than the entire headline cast of OCEANS 13.

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  • Floyd Thursby

    But what does Viola think of JW’s ‘do?

  • AlexG

    “White movie bloggers on black hair…is there a subject they’re less informed on”

    My thoughts exactly. What are you guys smoking?

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