Anika Noni Rose And Thandie Talk Perceptions Of Beauty

Anika Noni Rose and I go back. I’d been cat-like prowling around her for a looong time – seeing her rock great roles – respect replacing envy in a heartbeat!  It’s a weird thing for actresses of colour – always competing for the handful of good roles.

Which is why ‘For Colored Girls‘ was a revelation – because a lot of us got to meet, hang out and actually work TOGETHER. That’s where I met Anika. I remember arriving in the make up trailer on my first day, and there was a hallowed atmosphere because magic was happening on set.

Anika Noni Rose was KILLING a scene. She’s stunning in the film. She was also a wonderful comrade – and we made each other laugh like witches. We still do. She’s smart and funny – with one eyebrow raised at the world. In 2013 we got to play sisters in ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ – (being released this Spring). It’s a film we’re very proud of, and playing sisters; was like breathing.

So… I thought I’d let you in on a sample of  long distance chat between me and my gal pal… this is a transcript of us skyping between Vancouver (me) and LA (her) late last year…

TN  I grew up in a place where nobody had textured hair – the variations were hair colour and that was it really. If you saw a curl ANYWHERE it was unusual. My Mum worked really really hard and had very little time, so once she got my hair into a certain groove, which was a braid or 2, then we were alright.

ANR  You were good.

TN  Yeah, we were good, we were fine. But the couple of times when it went off-road into something unusual… like I remember there was one time when we had ‘school photo’ day. You know ‘school photo’ day?

ANR… with that tiny comb? That you couldn’t do shit with?

TN  What’s that? (laughs) Oh my god, really?

ANR  They’d have tiny combs for the children, and for the white children that was fine ‘cause they’d comb it down and smooth it out. They’d stick that thing in our hair… what are you gonna do with that?

TN You’re kidding! But would it be the teachers trying to make your hair look nice, or would they just give it to you?

ANR  Yeah! They’d figure that they weren’t gonna make ‘our’ hair look nice with that thing so they would hand it to us, but we’re little kids – we don’t know any better, (so) we’re trying to comb it out. But your parents have done your hair all nice, so you end up in your picture with a little bit of ‘puh’ (she imitates a rogue bit of hair stuck out at the front).

TN  What! So you would do it just cause the teachers were like “make your hair look nice”.

ANR  Yes! The teacher’s handed you a comb, you’re 6, you’re gonna try and like…

TN …‘cause the other girls are doing it.

ANR  Everybody’s doing their hair!

TN  So that was in Bloomfield*?

ANR  mm hm.

TN  And you were in a minority in the school?

ANR  Yeah.

TN  …and was your hair natural at that point?

ANR  OH yeah. My mother did not put chemicals in my hair until I was, I think 11. And by then I had a lot of hair. But when I was a little kid my hair was v short and natural, and when I was a toddler she just kept it v short and well moisturized.

TN When you say v short do you mean like ‘boy’ short?

ANR  Yeah. I can send you a picture (the picture you see here) She would put a little barrett in it. Then when I got to Elementary school I had enough hair to have pigtails.

TN  One or 2?

ANR  Puffs. 2 puffs.

TN  Ok so that’s how you’d do your hair for the school photo, say?

ANR  …or make 2 twists and pull them together.

TN  Sweet! We call that ‘plaits and over’.

ANR  laughs – ok

TN  So that was your ‘do’ – plaits and over.

ANR  Mmm hmm.

TN  When I was maybe 5 or 6,  I went into school and my Mum had done my hair,  specifically for the school photo – cause that’s a special day – you know? And it’s expensive to have those friggin pictures, right? So she did maybe 6 cornrows on either side with little green wooden beads on the end – so cute – and the green beads were bought to match my green uniform.

I went into school proud, happy; Mum was totally psyched that she’d got this good ‘do’ going. And they wouldn’t let me have my photo taken – they wouldn’t even give me a reason , it was just “you can’t have your picture taken looking like that”.

ANR …that’s unbelievable.

TN  So I went home at the end of the day, and I had to say to my mother, “I couldn’t have my photo taken because of the way my hair looked”. It was because my hair was ‘unsuitable’.

ANR  For them.

TN This was a Catholic school run by white Irish nuns. The best school in the town; that my mother had managed to get me into. And on the first day of arriving at the school the teacher met my Mum at the gate and said to her, no word of a lie; “we’re very excited, we’ve never had one before”.

ANR  Wow!

TN  I know, isn’t that genius!

ANR  Wow

TN  My mum had to leave me at the gate, turn around and walk home.

ANR  Jesus.

TN  So back to the hair, the next day my Mum went into the school – I was not present for the conversation – but I had my photo taken the next day.  Maybe it’s partly ’cause of that, but I love to let my own girl’s hair be wild and free.

ANR I LOVE their hair!

TN I’ll wash and braid it once a week – but whenever they want to free their ‘curly cushion’ – they can. But I’ve come to the conclusion that by most people’s standards my girls have really messy hair. I’ve heard that there have been comments online about how I don’t take care of my girls’ hair, that it looks ‘nappy’.

ANR  I hate that word. I hate that word. I think it’s such an ugly word and it was attributed to us to make us feel bad about what our hair does.

TN Not only the word but the whole ‘idea’…

ANR …the ‘state’ of our hair.

TN  So what, in response we go through agony to glue our hair DOWN – DOWN and AWAY.  When in fact what I love most about my girls’ hair – I love that Nico (9) can go to bed with her hair in one shape, wake up the next morning and it’s a completely different shape.

ANR  laughs.

TN …and that is the shape for ‘Wednesday’. I love that.

ANR  I. Love. Their. Hair.

TN  It’s glorious!

ANR  Children’s hair should be able to LIVE.

TN  I love that their hair is communing with the atmosphere all the time – it’s like antennae out into the world.

ANR  As long as somebody’s hair is clean and moisturized, it’s a child, who cares if their hair is all over the place?

TN  A lot of people do, babe.

ANR But that’s about self loathing.

TN …and about keeping yourself ‘in line’. So that you fit in.

ANR  When I think about Gabby Douglas when she won at the Olympics, people were giving her a hard time about her hair.

TN  Kay did Gabby’s makeup for the ‘Vanity Fair’ shoot, and said that girl was just on fire, that she was stunning.

ANR  Americans, particularly Black American women went IN on that girl’s hair.

TN  Why?

ANR  Because she had that little ponytail! Because she didn’t have a weave down to her butt.

TN Whaat!

ANR …winning a GOLD MEDAL.

TN  No way that was NOT what was being talked about!

ANR  I was like Wow –while this girl was SWEATING and wining a GOLD MEDAL.

TN  That’s about representation – they don’t want to be represented like that. For whatever reason, that ‘look’ defines a kind of unsophisticated persona.

ANR But her hair was no different, her hair was in a little ball or a little ponytail.

TN It was away from her friggin’ line of fire so she could win the gold!!! It was a practical, completely understandable hair-do for what she needed to get done.

ANR  Ridiculous.

TN  They’re called hair ‘dos’ not, you know, ‘hair distractions’!

ANR  When it’s time to do some press and take a picture then you create a hair-do that you want to be glamorous!

TN  If you want to sure. Still, I do feel a degree of compassion for the people who were focusing on that because there aren’t enough people of colour who ARE in the spotlight, and who ARE getting awards, so each person who IS  in the spotlight is obviously more condemned, because they’re representing the UNREPRESENTED. If there were more people it would be like “yeah look like Miley Cyrus, yeah look like Rihanna, yeah look like an individual” because there are more people in that world (music)  representing you.

ANR  Well, for example, when Viola Davis was nominated for an Oscar, for ‘The Help’, and it was the first time that she’d worn her natural hair, and she wore that phenomenal green gown, her body was tight and ridiculous (her body is ridiculous)… and that hair was a fiery red, short natural cut, soft curls. It looked stunning. And people had the gall to say that it was not dressy enough for the occasion. Are you kidding? A) it’s the woman’s hair …

TN … and it’s her award! It’s her nomination! It’s all about her!

ANR …and she looked better to me than I had ever seen her look on a red carpet – she looked stunning and glorious.

TN  Because it was how SHE wanted to look in that moment. There’s also the interesting discrepancy between how we are seen or how we allow ourselves to be seen on that red carpet, and how we are in our normal lives. One of the things I love about ThandieKay is that it’s trying to bridge that gap between what we permit in private, and how we allow ourselves to be seen publically.

How we are truly comfortable being seen – it would be so nice if we felt empowered enough to be viewed as we are when we wake up in the morning. Years ago Ripley (my daughter) when she was 7,  said that I was most beautiful (and she’d seen me dressing up to go win a BAFTA or go and meet Nelson Mandela – she’d seen me looking FINE). And she said I am my most beautiful when I first wake up in the morning.

And Ripley doesn’t say things in order to impress or get a reaction – there’s a purity that goes from her brain, to her mouth and out into the world. And she’s right.  It makes me think about Viola Davis, that in her defining moment she wanted to be in her natural state. I think that’s extraordinary, beautiful.

ANR  And there’s also an interesting discrepancy between the way white women are allowed to walk a carpet, and the way ‘we’ are allowed to walk a  carpet. I’ve seen white women on the carpet whose hair looked like they were on their way to Wal Mart, and midway they got a call and somebody said “The Oscars are tonight”…

TN -laughs.

ANR and they were like “Oh shit, I forgot!” Like, hair looking crazy.

TN  Well presumably they wanted it to look crazy? Right? Because presumably that crazy look had taken a couple of hours to perfect?

ANR  I mean I guess? I hope? Almost! I don’t know. But I think there’s a great great discrepancy you know, no one would dare say about someone else’s naturally curly hair, that their hair wasn’t up to par for an event, but that raggedy straight lanky ponytail  – that was up to snuff for an event?

TN  Do you think that’s largely due to the fact that there haven’t been enough people of colour on the carpet for us to be comfortable with a huge spectrum of difference?

ANR …then there wouldn’t be so much of an issue.

TN  And there’s that awful hangover, which I know is why my Mum pushed my hair down and away, was so that I wouldn’t be a satellite for people pointing at me or picking on me.

And she was right in a way – because she shielded me from so much racism as a child.  I think there is still that mentality in the way the majority of African Americans are treating their representatives on the red carpet – and let’s face it, that’s you and me.  But the question is, is that how we’re perceiving ourselves when we get dressed up?

ANR I have to say no. When we did Toronto Film Festival…

TN …I loved your hair. That short do.

ANR  Thanks! I liked my hair. I liked my dress, I felt like, it wasn’t too dressy, ‘cause that’s not what it was.

TN Toronto’s much more casual isn’t it?

ANR  It’s more laid back. And yet, in spite of all that I mistakenly looked at a fashion blog – and I never do this! I really don’t know why I did that…

TN  Maybe because you were feeling really good?

ANR  I think because I was feeling great!

TN  Because it wasn’t as red carpety as red carpets can be. You were more ‘Anika’ out there.

ANR  I was having a good time, I was able to wear a dress that was designed by somebody that I knew and I was really happy to give her some shine on the carpet. And these people TORE ME UP.

TN Seriously?

ANR Tore me up!

TN  On what basis?

ANR …“She tried”…

TN Hey?!

ANR  Yessss! That was their final verdict. I disagree with them and I don’t care what they said, and they were wrong – (laughs)

TN And it’s so different to the way you felt about how you looked.

ANR  Completely 180 degrees away from how I felt, and how I was treated.

TN  None of it is what’s important. What’s important is the ‘motivation’ for looking the way we do. And with your hair the way it was with the shorter do, whose idea was that?

ANR  Mine.

TN  What was behind that?

ANR  Partially because I was wearing a bob in a movie I was doing called “A Day Late and Dollar Short”. Which I was doing in Toronto at the time.

TN  So you cut your hair for the show?!

ANR  No I made them put a weave in, that was the same texture and length as my hair.

TN That was a weave!

ANR  And I was glad about it because it tears our hair doing that to it every day (on a movie).

TN That’s why I put fake hair in when I’m working.

ANR  Yeah! Because it tears your hair up!

(With the ideal foot massager, you’re able to kick back and relax after a very hard day.)

TN  That’s why I wanna wear a weave or wig, because I’m protecting my hair. It’s not something I want to do for my ‘real life’, no way.

ANR  It’s not comfortable in life, it’s not practical in life, or an every day thing. I find it extraordinarily uncomfortable. Like, my head is itching, it’s tight and I like to be able to scratch my scalp. All of those things are deterrents for me.

TN  And yet we are representing people en masse, who don’t realize that the reason WHY we’re putting all this hair in is because for us it’s kind of a ‘job’ and we have to do our hair a LOT, and we’re protecting our hair. But then the girls at home who are looking at us on the carpet, and who wanna look like us – they’re thinking “Oh,

I need to do this for myself, on a regular day to day basis”. When actually if we WEREN’T  on display so often we wouldn’t put that stuff in. So, we’re actually promoting a way of maintenance that we wouldn’t have if it wasn’t part of our day to day job.

ANR  I think that that’s a problem with the way celebrity has made a turn, and the way coverage of celebrity has made a turn – you know, because…

TN …Because you know those girls who are being photographed on the beach are only putting make up on because they know there’s a long lens somewhere. I mean honest to god that’s how someone should look on a beach? Please!

ANR  No! I don’t even, when I’m on vacation my hair is not straight, my hair is not blow dried – it might be in a ponytail or I  might have it out looking like a happy Dr Seuss character – and you know what, I’m FINE WITH THAT. I would love LESS coverage of celebrities.

TN  Because it starts to filter down into a person’s every day – the pressure to look like that. Every time I had to be on the AOL Homepage over the Summer there was another celebrity’s bikini body. I use the term celebrity very loosely by the way – because it’s someone who’s been on a reality TV show,

who then starts to put make up on at times when you would never put make up on, because they know they’re going to be photographed. That kind of scrutiny of themselves and then ourselves (the public) is toxic. I’d rather see a celebrity going to Trader Joe’s looking regular – then I’m like “Oh! Thank goodness! A real person!”

ANR  If you were a regular person going to Trader Joes you might put on some mascara, because you’re a woman. You might, and some lip gloss.

TN  Partly because you like to look like that in the mirror. You want the person who looks back at you to reflect how you’re feeling inside, let’s face it.

ANR  I didn’t come from a ‘make up’ family; I’m not good at eye shadow or creating a ‘crease’ and all that drama. I’m just not good at that, and I’m not interested in that for regular every day.

I’m interested in being moisturized, sunblocked, and clean. So when people meet me on the street they meet generally a very clean face. So when I first got to LA, I’ve got to say I put on make up MUCH more often because I had been walking down the street and had a photographer rush up to me and start taking crazy pictures.

TN  When in fact a magazine shoot, or red carpet, is our place of ‘work’ – that’s where we’re going to be seen by people who are potentially going to cast us in a movie – so the reason we want to look good there, is not because of how we feel about ourselves, but how other people are going to rate us when they’re making a casting.

Nails clippers is very important for care of your nails .

ANR  Exactly. Not some base vanity that carries us through the day. And I don’t think people understand that, and I think that women have every right to walk out of their house in sweatpants.

TN  In ways that their 7 year old daughter thinks that they’re most beautiful, by the way!

ANR   And don’t we have a responsibility to our children, and the little people in our lives, to show them what women look like!

TN  What women look like in their natural, unadorned state.

Purple shampoo is very useful for colored hair’s .