It’s finally here! The movie that I waited on for a full year. I’ve watched it twice. Was it that good? Hmmm…I think watched it more than once to make sure that I was watching it with a critical eye rather than as a fan. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed the movie, but I wanted to make sure why I enjoyed it, and I wanted to make sure that I gave the film a fair chance.
When they announced last year that they were turning Nappily Ever After by Trisha R. Thomas into a film starring Sanaa Lathan, I decided then to read the book. I remember when it came out amid the contemporary African-American Literary Renaissance phase in the late 90’s/early 2000’s. You know, the boom that brought us authors like Terry McMillan, Omar Tyree, and Eric Jerome Dickey. I remember being resistant to reading the book because the natural hair movement was just getting started and I was firmly #teamrelaxer. I wasn’t even open to giving the book a chance. Not back then. But almost 20 years later, and having endured my own big chop, I said, “Why not?” I knew I would support the movie because Sanaa Lathan is my friend in my head (I have a lot of those including Oprah)and I had to support my girl! So I started reading the book last November, and well…tt wasn’t my favorite. I didn’t hate it. I guess I don’t know what I expected, but I was underwhelmed. No shade to the author. Some books we love, some books we don’t.
I was still excited about the movie the though, so on when it dropped on Netflix I was ready. After two views and a bag of popcorn, I would say that Nappily Ever After was quite a treat. Sanaa plays Violet, a woman who believes that in order to marry the perfect man she has to be perfect in every way including long, straight hair. Violet goes to great lengths to maintain this perfection including having her mother come to her home at four in the morning to flat-iron her hair before her boyfriend wakes up (idiot). The movie, and the book, look at Violet’s journey in releasing perfectionism and owning and loving her natural God-given beauty. It’s about recognizing what type of woman you are and being confident in yourself.
Now that is the gist of the movie without giving away too many details. I think every woman should watch it. It is romantic, and funny, and dramatic, and sad in every place it should be. The movie is filled with A-list actors like Sanaa, Ernie Hudson, and Lynn Whitfield. But to me, the star of the show is the young lady who plays Zoe. Daria Johns brings Zoe to life. She is the daughter of Violet’s potential suitor, Will. Zoe’s mother is absent from her life and Will is raising her alone. Violet meets Zoe in the hair salon and makes some really mean comments on her poor behavior, attire, and hair. Zoe overhears her and you can clearly see the hurt on her face.
Even though Zoe manages to issue her own dose of revenge to Violet, they eventually manage to form a relationship with Violet giving Zoe the mother figure that she has been longing for. Zoe in turn gives Violet wisdom on being herself. She helps Violet to see that happiness is not being perfect, but in being proud and confident in who you are as a person. Miss Johns is perfectly cast! If I watch the movie a 3rd time it will because of her. She was refreshing to watch. She gave an honest portrayal of a girl who is confident yet simultaneously seeking validation. I just kept thinking, “I wish she could be my daughter!” Maybe I’m getting sentimental in my old age.
Zoe’s initial interaction with Violet, and the movie overall, also brought back childhood memories of my own hair journey. Some comical. Some painful. Sitting at the knee of my mother getting my ears burned with the hot comb ( I still have a scar on my arm from getting burned). Getting my hair permed in the 1st grade because my sisters felt like that would be better than the hot comb. My hair falling out from the perm. Getting a Jheri curl. Getting my hair cut off. Being called Florida Evans by my uncles. A “friend” telling me that my hair looked like rats had been sucking on it. Trying to sleep straight without messing up my hair. Making love and worrying that your boyfriend will ruin the $80 you just spent at the hair salon. It. Has. Been. A journey! So when Violet insults Zoe, I felt the sting in my chest as if she were speaking directly to me. And I grieved. I grieved for the brave girl who died a little inside when someone attacks her because of her hair, her looks, her body. It hurt. And that is the beauty of this film, that every woman will feel compassion and empathy because we can all relate to the Zoe’s and Violets that live inside of us.
I’m not a reviewer, of books or movies. But, I do love stories that I can relate to especially those that speak to my experiences as a black woman. Nappily Ever After the movie ( I want to make that clear because again, the book just didn’t do it for me) does just that. It speaks to my hair journey, my body journey, my work journey, my love journey, the journey with my family . It speaks to the journey of waking up and figuring out that I’m ok, just as I am. I am still not fond, of my “natural” hair. Yet, I can’t imagine ever going back to a relaxer, and weaves just aren’t my thing. I think movies and stories like these, more than anything, reinforce that no matter wherewe are on our journey, we are perfect just they way we are.
Read the book. Watch the movie. Tell me what you think.
P.S. There were a couple of scenes that I found to be awkward and unrealistic. The scene where Violet shaves her head (awkward). The scene where Will rubs scalp on Violet’s head (awkward and unrealistic). Why? BFF was just doing to much for me (insert eye roll). But, pay me no attention, that’s the cynic in me! ENJOY!