Post by Thandie.
We had such a great response to our last round of gossip – so I decided to Post the second half of Anika and my conversation last year. And as fate would have it our joint venture “Half of a Yellow Sun” was released in cinemas in the US last week. So here’s a peak behind the ‘celebrity curtain’, and we look forward to your feedback here, or on Twitter @Thandie_Kay @thandienewton @AnikaNoniRose
TN I don’t take my daughters to the hair dressers anymore, because I can’t find a salon (whether it’s run by white people or people of colour) who are sympathetic to how much it hurts a child when you tug on their hair! I’ve actually been surprised by how people of colour tug on it as much, or even more. I think it’s because we with kinky hair have grown up expecting it to hurt a lot, because that’s just the way it is. And I don’t think it should be.
ANR Well it doesn’t have to be, because you’re not in a rush.
TN But I think a lot of people are in a rush, and it hurts. As a result we’re willing to go through so much pain to get our hair in line.
ANR It makes me sad to see little kids with their hair straightened. It’s not healthy for their hair, it’s not healthy for their growing body, It’s not healthy, in my opinion, for their brains.
TN No of course it’s not, lye is a poison.
ANR I did go to a hairdresser when I was a kid, which is probably why I’m not a brilliant hair person right now. But I went to the hairdresser because my Mom couldn’t corn row or anything like that, so she took me to people that could. Once a week I would go to the hair dresser…
TN Really? God how fabulous…
ANR Yeah. When it was summertime, my hair would be corn rowed. Which I usually hated.
ANR Because I felt too exposed. Like you and I have nice sized foreheads…but when my hair was corn rowed I felt like I WAS a forehead (both laugh). There were styles that I thought were really pretty, but every day corn row – I wasn’t feeling, I didn’t like it.
TN Was it to do with other girls in your school having bangs? Or just hair that moved around? Like, if it had been ‘singles’ would you have been happier?
ANR I didn’t feel cute at all.
ANR Primarily because I didn’t feel like a cute kid at that point. Like, I was a really cute toddler, and then something happened in the middle there (laughing)…
TN So you didn’t want to draw attention to yourself and your big forehead?
ANR There’s a story when I was a little little kid, and I was in day care. I came home and I was shaking my head from side to side, and my parents were like, “What are you doing?”, and I said, “I’m getting my hair out my face”. I had no hair in my face (laughing).
TN But you just wanted to be able to imagine that feeling?
ANR Yeah. Because that’s what the kids in my class were doing, and they actually HAD some hair in their face.
ANR I didn’t feel bad about it, my parents didn’t allow me to feel bad. They tell that story now, and they crack up. I was lucky to have people around me who didn’t go in for the ‘good hair/bad hair’ conversation. Which I’m very, very thankful for, because I think that is so detrimental to children, to girls in particular.
TN You have to be able to decide for yourself; “is my hair good today, is it not good today?” If it’s being projected onto you, you can’t develop your own opinion. There was definitely that culture of keeping the hair in line. So imagining the 60s, and an AFRO – how politically confronting that is. I would’ve loved to have been in the 60s, the Black Power Movement, the afros out there…
ANR That ‘exercise ball’, it was the hugest. My mother, your Mother, both of them you know. And I love the mans afro…
TN Ah heaven…
ANR Right now in 2013 in New York we just got a new Mayor who’s Italian; De Blasio.
ANR He has black children…
TN … I’ve seen that wonderful YouTube clip of him with his son? So beautiful.
ANR He’s so comfortable and proud of who they are and I love that. I love to see that.
TN Tell me about the first time your hair was relaxed; how did that feel when you were 11 years old, feeling your hair actually fall down the back of your neck…
ANR My hair moved in the wind, my hair was healthy because it had a thickness to it. I had a little style cut into it. I felt like the most beautiful thing ever. Ever! (giggles).
TN Amazing, and have you been relaxing it ever since?
ANR I have been relaxing ever since. I tried to stop for a while and I realised that the texture of my hair meant that I’d have to cut the thing off.
TN Yeah. It’s very difficult once you’ve committed to a full relax. To grow it out you might have to cut it back to nothing. I didn’t do that I, when I grew my relaxer out, it’s like three years ago now, I would straighten the re-growth, because I can blow my hair straight pretty easy – so it’s not such a big deal to go natural for me. I mean it must make people laugh when they hear me go “Oh I went natural!”… like, big freaking deal dude – curly, straight, you can do whatever you want!… and I do appreciate that.
ANR I think I’m the only person in my immediate family who doesn’t have ‘wash n go’ hair, and it pisses me off (both laugh). Half my family have ‘wash n go’ hair. Even if I blow dry, once I start to sweat, my hairline…
TN If someone YAWNS too close mine curls up…(both laugh)
ANR That thing is gonna curl right back up.
TN But the danger is that the hair-line has the most fragile hair, so if you’re continually re-straightening that with a tong, that hair is going to come out, and you are going to be bald.
ANR Going to be bald. And you see black people who have done that over the years who have ended up with their hair starting back at their ears, and I’m not into terrorizing my hair if I’m perfectly honest. I think a relaxer is enough. Like, I don’t do a lot of straight ironing when I do my hair. I get it roller set. And then I’ll use a blow dryer…
TN Bald dryer…(laughs)
ANR …just on the roots, and then I’ll let that hair go. During the week I’m not doing anything. I’ve put a satin cap on it, which keeps the moisture in your hair. Then I leave it alone, which is easy to do in New York, and harder to do in LA because the weather is so dry; you have to pay a little more attention.
TN Why is the hair more difficult to maintain in dryer weather?
ANR The air, and the water is hard so it leaches the moisture out of your hair, and anybody with curly hair, you know, we have problems holding moisture anyway (TN agrees).
TN So you didn’t like having your hair braided when you were little. But when we were in Nigeria shooting Half Of A Yellow Sun your braids with the extensions looked completely stunning. I love love loved having my hair braided on the movie.
TN Braiding is an amazing option for women of colour. It’s not en vogue necessarily, but there is definitely room for it to be brought right back in. I remember seeing Beyonce after she’d had her baby, with her hair braided and I’m thinking ‘yeah’ – ‘cause it’s so practical. You can still wash it like regular hair. If you have singles you can do stuff to it, you can put it up, you can put it in a braid…
ANR Yeah, it allows you so much personality.
TN And it’s also artistry.
ANR It’s absolutely artistry. It is a gorgeous and wonderful art. The fact that they can look at someone’s head and figure out a map of how to create a braid style that is going to work with a face, and is gonna even be geometrical (laughs). It’s phenomenal to me. When Chimamanda came to Toronto…
TN Oh my God! She has beautiful things done to her hair.
TN I know she is a goddess on terra firma
ANR She’s ridiculous.
TN Here’s a funny thing that happened. I was working with an actress and we’re doing a scene together and I suddenly noticed there was something in her hair. I realised there was a little braid in there, and I’m thinking, “is that a mistake”? So I said to the hairdresser “Listen I think that there’s something in her hair”, and the hair dresser said “No, she puts them in there, one on each side and joins two tiny braids inside her hair, at the back, to create skin tightening.” Another friend of mine worked with a model, who’s huge and successful, who does the same thing; braid two tiny braids above her forehead, and another braid at the back, tied tight together inside her hair to create a lift.
And I remember after that beautiful braiding I had in Nigeria, I looked in the mirror and I thought “whoooo Nigeria’s treating me good, maybe it’s the typhoid I don’t know, I look amazing” and I suddenly realised the braids had pulled my skin so tight (ANR laughs). It’s like an instant facelift, isn’t it?
ANR Yeah it can absolutely do that. But the sad part is that I’ve had braids that I’ve paid good money for, and looked stunning. But 4 hours in I had to take them out.
TN Because it was too tight?
ANR Tight? I could barely see! (laughs)
TN When my daughters get braids done I give them Arnica homeopathic pills beforehand, and all the way through getting it braided. I remember when I was doing Beloved years ago, we were using amazing wigs, an afro down to my waist that had been twisted into semi dreadlocks, it was incredible.
But in order to get that wig on and off every day the hairdresser decided to have our hair braided. It was so tight Anika. The first night I don’t think I even slept. I felt claustrophobic in my own scull. I started having an anxiety attack because I wanted to break loose from my own head! I cut them off.
TN Totally cut into them, shred them off. If you’re gonna get it done, it won’t last as long, but if it’s too tight it’s just….hell. And that pulling at the hairline…
ANR It will pull your hair right out!
TN And when that hair is gone at the hairline, it ain’t comin’ back.
ANR Well after Half Of A Yellow Sun I then went on a vacation where I got my hair re-braided in a different style. By the time I got back the edges of my hair were so angry, and my edges are really fragile babe. I was like oooh I need to put some special tonic or something on the edges of my hair because it looks thin. It’s naturally thin and much softer. So my hair was sort of shot after that experience. If it had just been like a one month deal we would have been fine. But 3 or 4 months is too much.
TN So it’s variation isn’t it? But from talking to you, and I felt the same, getting our hair straightened is where we end up, because it’s the most convenient way of looking after kinky hair. I think we need to let ourselves off the hook, relaxing isn’t a crime. If you wanna have hair that is long it’s either got to be braided, woven (and that’s gonna ‘cause a lot friction at the hair line and you’re going to deaden your hair follicles). Or it’s gotta be straightened, so that you can actually manage it?
ANR No, there are people who can do things with their natural hair, it just takes more time…
TN But you have to be able to do it yourself, and you’re saying you weren’t great at doing your own hair?
ANR I’ve been wanting to cut my hair for some time, I’ve been wanting to do a pixie.
TN I love that.
ANR Just soften the curl a little bit, and maybe do something with a…I need a bang, like I said, I have a very intelligent forehead (both laugh). I would probably blow dry the bang and do something with that, and let the rest of it do what it does. My hair being straight has nothing to do with shame or discomfort. It has everything to do with my work, and how I need to be seen and how it needs to be utilized. And we have loads of counter parts who don’t work nearly as often as they would because their hair is natural. I think there’s a strength in that; in saying, “this is who I am, and this is what it is, so deal with it”. They’re beautiful women. But even though producers and casting directors know that wigs can be used…
TN… the way you look when you walk into a casting determines if you get the role.
ANR Exactly. Wigs weren’t even made for us! So I know that they (casting directors) know that wigs exist and happen. Wigs weren’t made for us, extensions were not made for us… but we’ve turned it into a major business and…
TN Wigs were huge in the 60s. Part of what I loved about Half Of A Yellow Sun is that those girls had wig heads in their dressing rooms at home, and wearing a wig was standard, nothing to be ashamed of.
ANR It was fashion!
TN It was like wearing a coat.
ANR But nowadays people pretend that that’s their hair, you know. If I have a weave down to my butt clearly that’s not my hair, you saw me a week ago, (laughs) that’s not what I look like! I think that there’s some stigma for people who can’t grow long hair – because it’s feminine to have locks.
TN Yeah, there’s something shameful about it not coming out of your roots, which is nonsense. If you look at icons like Rihanna or Beyonce you know that there’s very little of that hair that belongs to them – and that’s accepted. So that’s going to filter down to the next generation – there won’t be the stigma. But white women on the other hand don’t seem to be as quick with getting hair pieces. They think Beyonce’s hair is real! I say to my white friends, “What do you mean you don’t have hair pieces, why are you going ‘round looking like you’ve got 5 hairs on your head, when you could have a nice thick head of hair up there?”
ANR Well, white woman in life may not be, but white celebrities!! They are weaved and they have more tracks than the train. There’s a myth that we’re always (adding extensions). People automatically assume we’re woven. I was with a woman doing a job and this guy was like “nice weave” and she was like “this is my hair!” People assume that we don’t have hair. I was disappointed in that movie Good Hair, because it made it look like black woman are the only ones for whom hair is connected to their self esteem.
TN I remember when I was doing a movie called The Truth About Charlie with Mark Wahlberg, my hair was relaxed and long. It looked healthy and thick. It wasn’t even dead straight; it was just wavy.
One day on set Mark came up to me and said “Hey Thandie, nice weave” and laughed to himself. He knew it was my natural hair but he wanted to diss me. He could be mean! But who cares whether you’ve got pieces in or not, it’s up to you. Do what you want, just be conscious of why you’re doing it.
ANR Yeah. But I think that there are definitely people that put a weave in down to their butt, and then pretend that that’s their hair. Then next they have a short cut and they’re like “Oh yeah, I just cut my hair”. Well you did more than that…(both laugh)
TN Yeah. It’s artifice – and this whole fashion for air brushing, I mean it’s a whole other conversation in itself.
When you look at pictures of Dorothy Dandridge, Marlene Dietrich you know that’s the woman’s face, with very clever lighting. They were masters of light in those days – there was no way to hide. Lighting artistry has devolved ‘cause of computer wizardry. It’s a real shame.
ANR Nobody’s ready for high def. I was thinking of buying a TV recently and I went to go look, and this one TV was so damn clear that I was like “I don’t want to”…
TN …it doesn’t look real though.
ANR No, you can see the pores in somebody’s neck. I’m like, I don’t see that with my natural eyes.
TN Our eyes have more sophisticated perception than a computer does.
ANR It’s too much, so I was thinking of getting the lesser model, so I can’t see all that crap.
ANR They’ve got all this advanced technology coming up, and the make-up isn’t ready, the lighting isn’t ready. We have to be more perfect to be on a high def camera.
TN Or there’s gonna be a revolution in the way we perceive ourselves, where we allow ourselves to be more natural and more accepting of the way we look. I saw some footage from Rogue the other day, and I’d been in my first trimester and had a huge spot on my neck. God bless the make-up artist, it had been a rainy day and the make-up was no longer sitting on there. I had to deal psychologically with a big zit on my cheek and a zit my neck and I found it challenging. But I want to be cooler than that.
ANR Well, that’s hard because nobody wants to be out with a big-ass pimple. I can’t imagine that people wouldn’t recognize a person for more than their hormones and gene pool. But also how you carry yourself, and your light and the way it shines.
TN We’ve seen each other a lot with no make-up on.
ANR Something that I like about the way you portray yourself when you are on the red carpet; you’re not changing your face, you’re enhancing what’s there.
TN I think the reason why Ripley (daughter) prefers me with no make up is ‘cause she sees me; she recognizes me. There isn’t a mask. Our faces communicate so much and we lose sensitivity by all wearing the same heavy mask. In tribal cultures you put a blue stripe down your face, or you put a bone here – that becomes a defining feature. It can be the same with make-up and hair. I think one of the saddest things is not allowing ourselves to be seen in our natural state.
ANR Make up can be a mask, a shield.
TN I think it’s important to show behind the mask or, off of the carpet, to demystify all that, so that we recognize that make-up and hair are not a state of being – it’s play, you know.
ANR I’m very proud of us both in Half Of A Yellow Sun – we both have scenes where there’s nothing on our faces. Because that’s what it called for, stripping down.
TN Also babe, no make-up was gonna stay on in 45 degree (113 fahrenheit) heat with no air conditioning, please!
ANR It wasn’t like we had a choice. But even in For Colored Girls you know…
TN Ahhhh you were so beautiful, that scene in the hospital you’ve got no make up on, and how much depth did it add to your performance?!
ANR ‘Cause it’s real, and I think it’s important for people to be able to recognize the truth when they see it, and for us not to be afraid to show it.
TN I’m actually proud of the lines on my face. It’s challenging, but I appreciate looking at myself aging and not doing anything about it. I stand apart from other people who look frozen and exactly the same. Even though there is a trend towards doing that stuff (cosmetic surgery etc), I think if you don’t do it you’re actually more attractive to film makers, because you have something which no one else has, which is A NATURALLY MOVING FACE!
ANR You have the ability for multiple expressions (laughs).
TN People out there I’m telling you, if you want to be different and be recognized and noticed, don’t do it (botox, filler etc)!
ANR You see it in the French, and Judi Dench…
TN Isabelle Huppert – that’s a woman who’s freckly and has very thin skin which is lined, you know, she is so beautiful. Last year when Ol (husband screenwriter Ol Parker) was making Marigold Hotel, I went out to India and spent time with the cast.
Maggie Smith, who is in her 70s, has lines deep in her cheeks and her face and around her eyes. I was so struck by her beauty, which largely came from the lines in her face. It was like a Salgado photograph of a landscape; breathtakingly beautiful. And that’s what you’re not gonna have if you plump and freeze.
ANR I know, you deserve to be able to have a line on your damn face at 73. You deserve to be able to show life. 73 come on!
TN Yeah I know, yeah.
ANR When women are allowed to be women and not trapped in a little glass presentation box, you get something that is really breathtaking.
TN But it’s got to start with women allowing themselves to be women. We’ve gotta stop waiting for permission, and forget about what everyone else is doing or what the trends are. It starts with me, it starts with you and any other woman who makes choices about what they do with themselves every day, that’s the thing. There are always going to be trends and fashions. If it’s botox this decade it’s gonna be something else next decade. It’s such a shame that pressure is built up by what the majority is doing. As a kid I was made to feel different to everyone else, and it’s something that I now value hugely; that I’m comfortable with that. Which includes being comfortable looking undone, regular, it’s ok.
ANR That is more than ok, it’s important. It’s important you don’t fall down a rabbit hole, and turn into a crazy person.
TN Yeah. Yeah, yeah. We’re certainly crazy enough without it.