In the Black Panther movie’s fictional African country, Wakanda, I am the beauty standard. What saddens me is that it took 44 years for me to finally see myself reflected on the big screen.
I saw myself in General Okoye (played superbly by Danai Gurira), leader of the all women army, Dora Milaje.
I saw myself in Wakandan spy and King T’Challa’s love interest, Nakia (played by Oscar winner Lupita N’Yongo).
Almost every woman in the film looked just like me: dark skin, natural hair and short hair.
I’ll do my best not to share any spoilers from my experience seeing the film.
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This may not seem ground-breaking to you, but in 2018 for Black women it is.
For more than half of my life, I chemically relaxed my hair. It’s what Black little girls did in the 80’s, what Black college girls did in the 90’s and what Black professional women did in the 2000’s – especially if she wanted to work in TV news.
Marriage and motherhood changed that.
Once I was no longer a local TV news anchor and reporter, I finally had the flexibility and freedom to go natural.
But even natural hair is a struggle because I had to get to know it. The lifeless relaxed hair I’d always worn could always be revitalized with curlers and flat irons.
Several times I chopped my new natural hair to start over and find a better style. It took years to find what works for my natural texture. How sad! I didn’t know how to work with the hair that naturally grew out of my scalp.
Now I know it needs more moisture than a rain forest, a bonnet at night, coconut oil on my scalp, curling cream and an aerated sponge if I want to create coils – then Eco Styler gel if I want to bring out the curl pattern that lies within.
What I saw in fictional Wakanda is what I wish I saw in more films and TV projects. I want to see Black women without hair weaves or wigs (although there is a comical scene with a wig). Black women who switch up their hairstyles for each moment – like I do in real-life.
Think about the last time you saw a Black lead actresses like Halle Berry, Taraji P. Henson, Beyonce Knowles or Kerry Washington wear their natural hair. I’ll wait….
RELATED TOPIC: New Year, Natural Hair Regimen with YouBeNatural
Films have a lot more flexibility than we do in the TV news world. Most, but not all, of my on-air friends don’t wear their natural hair on the air. It’s only been in the last few years that I’ve seen more curly, natural styles worn by anchors and hosts. But short, natural cropped hair like mine on your local TV news screen is rare. Flip through your local news tonight and look at the on-air talent.
As an occasional on-air TV contributor and hot topic blogger, I have more versatility than my colleagues and friends who are still in the news business. They spend hours each week in the hair salon and hundreds of dollars on extensions/wigs/weaves to cover their natural hair. I can cut my own hair or head to the same barbershop as our son to get my desired look.
I thank God for The Antoines in my life who love me without relaxed or long hair. Our soon-to-be 8-year-old even prefers me with no makeup and dressed down. When he watches me apply my makeup standing in front of the bathroom vanity, he regularly asks “Why?” and “Can’t you leave your face the way it is?”
At least I know if there was a real-life Wakanda News Network or WNN, I know I could get hired as a news anchor there without changing anything that comes to me naturally.
Talk back to me in the comments: What are the beauty standards you observe about Black women in film and TV? How do you explain beauty standards and media messages to children? What’s your take on the Black Panther Beauty Standards?[Tweet “See the Black Beauty Standards in Black Panther’s Wakanda”]
Love that…WNN! I have had more conversations about this exact takeaway with many folks who have seen the movie. The norm in Wakanda is natural hair, how powerful . And that wig scene is deep! Thank you for sharing this piece. Im holding my caesar haircut head higher today!
This was such an awesome movie and it was great seeing natural women on the big screen. Can’t wait for the sequel.
This movie was hair goals! I love seeing all of the different natural hairstyles. It’s so different than what we usually see on tv.
I had no idea how to even say how grateful I was for dark skin all over that screen without having my kids raise their eyebrows at me. I loved it.
This was such a great read for me! As a white woman, I would have never thought about the impact a movie’s hair or skin tone would make on anyone, but now I see how much sense it makes. White people are never judged like, “They’re be prettier if they were even MORE pink” or “gosh, she has too many curls”. Excellent, excellent post.
It is so great that these hair styles are in the movie. I am glad you can relate to it and be empowered.
I think the representation is amazing. It feels as if finally we have a film where our kids can look up to and say, we can do what we want as well and be anyone we want to be, especially our little girls. I also think it’s awesome that they went down to the roots for the fashion and the looks in the movie. It makes you appreciate who you are more.
I think the way black women are portrayed in TV and media are definitely evolving through the years which is a breath of fresh air. It’s definitely great to now see all sorts of women from different cultures and backgrounds being recognized for their hard work and talent.
Yes! I love their dark skin and natural hair! Such an amazing beauty!
Oh yes, it feels great to see natural beauty being celebrated. It’s empowering.
Beautifully written Joyce. I am looking forward to taking my daughter to see this just to reinforce the lessons we teach at home of embracing the skin she is in and loving her natural beauty while appreciating the versatility of being a black woman.
Wakanda truly changed the game! I didnt know you were a news anchor cool fact! I hate that certain jobs would press “us” to look more presentable but I do think we live in a new era. I am so happy natural hair is becoming the beauty standard for women of color and Black Panther stayed true to keeping that a theme in the movie.
I have been natural for almost 7 years now, and I love how its becoming more mainstream with black women. The actresses from Black Panther are BEAUTIFUL!!! And I love their confidence you can see it without them even saying anything!
You are so beautiful girlie! I can’t wait to see Black Panther with my family! It looks really good!
I really need to see this movie. Ive been natural for 9 years. I cant wait to see the black girl magic on the big screen.
I was excited to see that Lupita was the love interest of reason in the movie. It was something I rarely see (and I never really go to the movies anyway). I also think your natural hair is dope but I’m going to push you and say that I’d like to see black women wearing their hair in whatever style they feel the most radiant. I’ve been natural since 2011 but I love my wigs and bundles just as much as my fro. I love being able to switch it up and hope not to be judged when I feel like being blonde for a month.
Yasss the women in the movie were so beautiful and so are you! I love how they are representing black beauty, and I love how so many black women are embracing their natural hair! It’s definitely a movement that’s here to stay.
I think that representation really and truly matters across all genres, media, and in the nation and the world. I try my best to introduce positive images of color to my children through books, videos, discussions, and daily conversations to continuously remind them that they are powerful, gifted, and stunning creations in this world. I am most proud of Black Panther for amplifying this truth of people of color, and to remind us that our Black is forever beautiful!
I love it! Hair is such a big deal in our community, but when I watched the movie it said “I am not my hair, I am so much more. See the women in Black Panther made me say I am strong, I am sexy, I am nurturing, I am an organizer, a builder, a healer, and a lover. All of these attributes together make me into a beautiful black queen.
I’m seeing Black Panther for the second time on Sunday and I totally agree- they made dark skin and natural hair the everyday look which I really appreciate since I’m dark-skinned and bald!
THe fact that my daughter was able to see herself and see me in this movie still makes me smile. I hope Black Panther is the catalyst to the change that is long overdue.