Sanaa Lathan’s Big Chop
by Codie Elaine Oliver



September 26, 2018


9 Minute Read


Sanaa Lathan’s Big Chop

When was the last time you saw a film where the lead character, a woman, was bald? A BLACK woman? I’ll wait.

Photographer: Elton Anderson

Netflix’s Nappily Ever After did a bold thing by making a movie with a talented, well-loved, veteran actress also known for being drop dead gorgeous….and stripping her of her hair. But, do you know who else was bold? Sanaa Lathan, the film’s star, who actually shaved her head for the film. Sanaa believed she would be doing a disservice to the character, the film, and to Black women by faking it.

“So, literally, at first I was not going to cut my hair. I said, you know, we can invest in a really good bald cap. These days the technology is amazing and that won’t be an issue. Then, as I started to work on Violet and really dive into her world and the messages of the movie, I really realized I just can’t — I can’t not do it. It’s just too important a message, you know, to me and to the world.”

She describes having butterflies in her stomach in the days leading up to actually cutting her hair on camera. “There was the double whammy of the fact that we had to get it in one take. It had to go ‘cause, I mean, you can’t do it again. You’re really shaving your head.” And she made this decision after signing on to the film. There was no turning back once she decided for herself how much this story meant to her and that she was going to go all the way.

Photographer: Elton Anderson

In the last few years, there has been a major shift, not just in the standards of beauty that we as Black women will accept but also in what is acceptable in corporate offices and schools. We are rocking our natural hair to work–kinky, curly, afro, low-cut caesars and all. And we even have a plethora of products to choose from to keep our hair shiny, healthy, and as coily as we need. While it could seem like Black women have finally reached that place where our chosen presentation of ourselves is accepted in the most conservative of environments, the reality is that I still have conversations with other Black women about whether we are comfortable going into a job interview with our natural hair or if we wait to unleash it on them once the job is secure. Natural hair for an important meeting? Depends on who it’s with. What about a first date? Should we ease potential partners in too? I’m sure I’m not the only one having these conversations.

The reality is that it’s still a mixed bag on how many of us are comfortable presenting ourselves, and that’s for a number of reasons. Sometimes it’s how we were raised or conditioned and that doesn’t just go away. You could probably name tons of Black actresses who are natural, in real life and on screen. But for Sanaa, she grew up in the film and television business when that was not acceptable at all. She shared that, “There are several times where I got feedback from producers asking ‘Oh, can she have her hair longer or straighter or to look more like this actress?’ i.e. more European. So it’s interesting to me to see the younger generation coming up and wearing their hair natural because they’re allowed to. They didn’t have the all those no’s that we had.”

So even though we saw the big reveal on the ‘gram and it looked effortlessly daring and (let’s be honest) so gorgeous on Sanaa, for her, it was still terrifying.

Sanaa plays Violet, a star advertising executive with a tight physique, perfectly coiffed hair, and a doctor-boyfriend who is poised to propose – until he doesn’t. Claiming Violet is just “too perfect and never let her hair down” in two years of dating, Clint says he basically doesn’t know her and isn’t ready to marry. So she asks him to leave, beginning a downward spiral of self-doubt culminating with a drunken head shaving incident. Sanaa says she definitely relates to her character in the film, but Violet is “the extreme version of the woman who feels like she has to be perfect in society because of her hair, because of what her parents have told her, and how society has conditioned her.”

Despite the red carpets and fab social media pics portraying a flawless Ms. Lathan, she says “It’s actually really scary being natural right now. It’s been very liberating, but then there’s days where I’m like ‘What am I doing’ and I feel very intimidated because you’re so conditioned.” She confesses that it’s been an emotional roller coaster, but the positive response from the public helped a lot. As a result, she even continued to shave it after the film wrapped last September.

Photographer: Elton Anderson

Now rocking the TWA (teeny weeny afro), BlackLove.com talked to Sanaa about her love life. Like Violet, she is prioritizing self-love, but thankfully without the dramatic break-up and alcohol-induced makeover featured in Nappily. “I had kind of a lightbulb a couple years ago that if you’re not loving yourself the right way, you’re not going to be able to have a healthy relationship. People can only give you what you give to yourself. It’s almost on par of what you give to yourself, and so that’s where the work is.” Sanaa admits that she wasn’t happy with the men she was attracting and felt it was a reflection on her. Making this investment in herself has allowed her to live a fuller live, and she believes it will attract a man who is her equal, specifically in his own self-awareness and love of self.

One of the steps she’s taking to show herself more love is monitoring how she speaks to herself. When our girlfriends put themselves down about their weight or looks, we are quick to build them up. Too often we don’t do that for ourselves.

“Treat yourself like you would a precious little thing that you adore…It’s an active practice. I have a list of self-love activities, habits – kind of a self-care love list. If I’m hitting half of them in a day, I’m doing good.”

The other major insight Sanaa shared for living her best was not being afraid to seek outside help. She believes in tending to her mental health as well as her physical health and is currently seeing a spiritual therapist she raves about. She’s learned that whether it’s a life coach, spiritual advisor, or therapist, objectivity is key because they can be honest with you.

With the stigmas around both the physical appearance of Black women and Black people in therapy, Sanaa Lathan is finding new ways to face her insecurities and continue to grow almost two decades into her career. She makes it look easy but also shares how vulnerable a process this has been for her. Most of all, we appreciate her for giving all women a new heroine with the image of a bald leading lady who learns to say “I am enough.”

Nappily Ever After is currently streaming on Netflix.