Viola Davis might have lost out to Meryl Streep in the category of best actress at the Academy Awards, but she won big as an emissary last night for the natural hair care revolution. Davis’ appearance on the Oscars red carpet with a short, amber-hued afro has opened a new chapter in the discussion of the politics of black women’s hair. Feelings are high as Hollywood style watchers applaud The Help’s star for ditching the wigs she has been sporting for years in favor of a beautiful, natural look.
Davis made previous headlines for posing with her own natural hair in a high fashion spread for the L.A. Times magazine, demonstrating that a black woman can look glamorous without a weave. Davis’ decision to appear at the Academy Awards ceremony for her historic nomination sans wig was an even stronger statement of the beauty of black women’s natural hairstyles.
Positive reactions to her bold choice have been universal. Davis was heralded not only as beautiful, but also as a peacemaker in an ideological beauty war.
The Daily Beast heaped praise upon the acting veteran, stating: “Davis…arrived at the awards ceremony in a stunning emerald-colored gown and a natural curly Afro, instantly lifting the lid from the bubbling pot of anger, judgment, and debate often directed towards African-American women and the varying states of their textured tresses.”
Experts told the online news site that, compared to her natural tresses, Davis’ wigs were ill-fitting and made the star look far older than she is — testimonies to the look’s enhancing qualities.
Rather than relying on fashion critics, it was Davis’ husband Julius Tennon who encouraged her to take the plunge and risk wearing her natural hair on such a special night.
“My husband wanted me to take the wig off,” the Oscar nominee told InStyle magazine. “He said, ‘If you want to wear it for your career, that’s fine, but in your life wear your hair. Step into who you are!’ It’s a powerful statement.”
Davis made that statement on the Academy Awards red carpet.
The star also told the pop fashion bible that she might return to wearing wigs for their versatility and “flavor.” The magazine editors responded: “Either way, she looks beautiful!”
Davis first revealed her textured curls over Oscars weekend at the Essence Black Women in Hollywood 2012 luncheon at which she was honored. There, Davis told reporters that before recent months, “there hasn’t been any occasion that I felt brave enough to do it,” referring to wearing natural hairstyles for major events.
The fact that Viola Davis had to muster courage to wear her own hair uncovered by flowing wigs reflects the trials and tribulations black women face when confronting mainstream standards of beauty.
A 2009 New York Times article that explores these struggles includes a statement from fellow actress Nia Long from the film Good Hair, in which she shares commonly held negative views about black women with natural styles.
“There’s always a sort of pressure within the black community, like ‘Oh, if you have good hair, you’re prettier or better than the brown-skinned girl that wears an afro or the dreads or the natural hairstyle,’ ” Long said in an interview in the film.
By wearing a natural afro at the Oscars ceremony, Davis challenged these limiting beliefs, and the effects of these attitudes on black women’s self-concepts. Wonderfully, the reaction of the mainstream press to her self-empowerment has been a groundswell of appreciation for her brand of African-American beauty and style.
Follow Alexis Garret Stodghill on Twitter @lexisb