Why “Nappily Ever After” Is Not The Happily Ever After For Black Women
I really wanted to love Nappily Ever After, despite my initial misgivings after the trailer dropped, and I seemed to be distracted by the fact that Sanaa Lathan’s hair texture probably wouldn’t be an issue for Black women who share my unforgivably “nappier” texture.
But weeks later, after actually watching the Netflix entry, it became clear that the issue of relatable hair textures doesn’t really factor into this prized narrative that has been beaten to death and brought back to life, more times than we dare to count.
The most disappointing aspect of Nappily Ever After, is embedded in it’s lackluster shell and generic delivery, and how it fails to summon the depth that’s required to give the main character the validity she deserves — in order to make her journey memorably profound.
The romantic comedy is based on the book by Trisha R. Thomas, and it focuses on Violet Jones, a marketing executive, who is driven by her unrelenting need for perfection, and how this never-ending hunger dominates both her professional and personal pursuits.
When we meet Violet, she’s cozied up in bed with her perfectly handsome boyfriend, Clint (Ricky Whittle), who as we later find out when he speaks, possesses the perfect British accent.
We already know from the start of the film, that like most Black women, Violet’s unhealthy relationship with her hair, took root when she was an impressionable kid — experiencing the embarrassing rites of passage that included communal swimming pools, that exposed her to teasing sessions when her textured tresses got wet.
This introduction is supposed to prepare us for the unexpected visitor that arrives at Violet’s house in the early morning, and forces her out of the arms of her sleeping Adonis.
Veteran actress Lynn Whitfield plays Violet’s hard-to-appease mother, who evidently enabled her daughter’s penchant for early morning house calls that involve polishing off already “perfect” hair, so it’s sleeker and straighter. This visit is notable because there’s a marriage proposal in the air, and in order to guarantee the reality of a diamond ring, Violet has to greet her future fiancee with the perfect aesthetic of a made up face and studio-ready hair.
The proposal never happens. Instead of a diamond sparkler, Violet gets an adorable puppy, and that pretty much seals her destiny, as she proceeds to dump the guy who didn’t think she was “perfect” enough to marry. Her non-proposal also interferes with her ability to function properly at work, and that results in a temporary break that gives her enough time to figure out why emancipating herself from her hair could be the way out of her lifelong dilemma.
Violet decides to shave off her tresses, after trying but failing to experiment with different ways to express her innermost self with flashy makeovers that never manifested her deepest emotions.
Expectedly. the scene that depicts the act of freedom is set up to evoke our ability to either relate or be inspired enough to consider doing the exact same thing.
During the period of vibrant rediscovery, our heroine strikes up a romance with a hairdresser, Will, dutifully played by Lyriq Bent, and also maternally bonds with his daughter, Zoe, delightfully portrayed by Daria Johns.
Violet’s potential romance with Will is sidetracked once he’s introduced to her mother at a gathering she’s hosting at her stately home, and the obvious “side-eye” at the fact that he’s not a sophisticated corporate raider makes him an unworthy candidate, and inevitably causes friction between the two budding lovebirds.
Clint, unexpectedly enters the picture right after, and there’s a brief connection that signals the rekindling of something that we should be rooting for, even though we have no incentive, and that makes those scenes hard to navigate.
At the end of the day, Nappily Ever After is the orgasm that doesn’t quite reach the heights to blissfully satisfy. Violet Jones seemingly readjusts her compass for the better, but while she sails into the sunset of spiritual rejuvenation — the target audience is left wondering what the hell happened to their “happily ever after.”
When it comes to the ultra-sensitive topic of hair, Black women stand alone, due to the uniqueness of texture that renders us vulnerable to the globally viable template, that doesn’t include us in the approved blueprint of acceptability or desirability.
There’s also the much-heralded arrival of the “natural hair movement”, and how it’s been hijacked by those who don’t apply.
The whole idea behind the “movement” was to endorse the rights of Black women with kinky textures to unapologetically embrace their tight curls without the restrictions that are formulated to shame us into believing that our natural strands aren’t transferable into policed arenas.
“Mixed chicks” are lauded for their overuse of hashtags that are really reserved for women like me, who can’t just roll out of bed, and then stand underneath an energetic shower head, before slabbing on a healthy dose of over-priced gel on thirsty curls — that readily absorb to shiny perfection.
White women are also having a swell time exploring the vast kingdom of braided hairstyles, with the full support of the fashion industry, who credit Kim Kardashian West for boldly erupting her red carpet moment with the summer’s designated pattern for corn rows.
And so, when you have a film that aims to center the narrative around the tumultous ride that Black women are inherently subjected to, the moment they realize how their controversial strands can make or break life’s noteworthy moments — the hope is that we’re greeted with something tangible enough to justify our personal failures and victories.
Unfortunately director Haifaa al-Mansour, chose the easy way out when constructing scenes that never quite hit the mark — due to the over-simplified elements that should’ve been expanded to reveal the darker side of our hair woes — and how this impediment can’t be redeemable by women who don’t boast the textures that are coarse enough to leave them vulnerable to unfairly biased regulations.
Nappily Ever After was an entangled mess from start to finish, and the culprit was the empty messaging — coupled with how all the characters were assembled to play without the cohesiveness of bonds and winning chemistry.
Viewers never have the opportunity to care enough about the designated people in Violet’s life, because of how very little effort is made to establish why her boyfriend of two years, Clint, is the love of her life, or why her girlfriends are genuinely concerned for her well-being, or why Will is potentially the dude who could enhance her newfound disposition, aside from the fact that he’s in the business of grooming hair.
There’s also the huge disappointment of not feeling represented as a Black women who has spent most of her life being critically assaulted by family, friends, and officials in high places — who felt entitled enough to express their rejection of my chosen method of styling — simply because it didn’t gel with the effortless presentations of my non-White counterparts.
Many have described Nappily Ever After as “cute,” and of course Black women can’t resist anything remotely attached to the subject of hair, and many have testified about how the “shaving scene” pushed them to finally implement the “big chop,” as a way to show solidarity with a character we hardly got to know.
Violet Jones remained a mystery throughout the film, and this was the most damning snafu, when you consider how much more richly defined the experience would’ve been if we had been blessed with the transparency of a woman with the right amount of complexity to arrest our attention.
There’s nothing epic about a woman taking drastic measures to alter her appearance in response to a major life event, like a breakup, but the meatiness of the matter lies in what ensued before and how the aftermath shapes up.
Nappily Ever After never ventures beyond the elementary, and this misstep makes beloved actress Sanaa Lathan seem misplaced and miscast, as she does the best with the material she’s given, but as someone who’s been a fan since Love & Basketball, The Best Man, and Something New, there’s the weirdness of wondering if maybe the starring role should’ve gone to a much younger and less recognizable actress — who basically has nothing to lose.
Lathan’s recent appearance in Showtime’s The Affair, this summer, seemed like a better fit, as her maturity blossomed under the direction of a character that she’s rightfully earned based on her stellar trajectory. This latest project doesn’t match up to her capabilities, or challenge her in ways that give fans the treat of watching her excel beyond expectations.
The “happy ever after” for Black women would’ve been the fulfillment of Violet’s journey through the terrain of ownership as it pertains to the one feature that defines the respectability you instinctively command, regardless of your input.
It’s no secret that Black men have publicly derided Black women’s hair as a way to shut us down when shit hits the fan. And that constant bullying in wide open spaces only emphasizes how high the stakes are, and why “hair woes” can’t be classified as “cute” or funny.
Childhoods have been spent straightening out the puffiness, frizziness, and nappiness with extra hot combs. And adulthood have played host to a plethora of overly-priced products that are meant to define the curls you barely have.
We needed Nappily Ever After to advance past the predictable gymnastics of surfacy fare, and settle into an affecting story that does much-needed justice to something that a specific group of women grapple with — in full view of gawkers who use our pain for their underserved gain.
There’s still plenty of time for that script to be written and serviced accordingly —but until then, we’ll have to endure what the pipeline unleashes.
In the meantime, here’s my contribution to the movement: