Despite the growing number of Black women appearing in major TV roles, there is still a stunning lack of diversity when it comes to the way these women wear their hair.
Time and time again, TV audiences have made it clear that what they want the most out of television programming is the chance to see an accurate portrayal of themselves and the general public in the shows they watch on a daily basis.
While many of today’s top-rated programs are starring diverse casts, the Black leading ladies are sporting the same weaves and wigs that have been dominating the TV space throughout the most recent decade.
“We’re very slowly getting more representation of Black women on TV,” said Awkward Black Girl creator Issa Rae, according to NBC News.
Rae added, however, that there is a “catch-22 because the diversity of our hair isn’t reflected at all.”
It’s a surprising fact considering the growing number of Black women ditching artificial extensions and chemical treatments to embrace their natural tresses.
Hollywood is an industry that gravitates toward trends, but the natural hair movement has gone unnoticed and unaddressed on small screens all across the country.
Whether it’s the problem-solving Olivia Pope in Scandal played by Kerry Washington, the no-nonsense ex-convict by the name of Cookie in Empire played by Taraji P. Henson or the heartbroken news anchor in Being Mary Jane played by Gabrielle Union, TV’s leading ladies are usually flaunting weaves while a significant number of their viewers are flaunting twist outs, Afros, braids, dreadlocks and other natural styles.
The growing popularity of the natural hair movement has recently led to YouTube channels, beauty blogs, hair salons, commercials and even shelving space in major retailers all being dedicated to highlighting, promoting and celebrating natural hair.
So why is this the one trend television doesn’t seem to be hitching a ride on?
Shonda Rhimes’ newest hit series How to Get Away With Murder took a stab at getting more real depictions of Black hair on television, but even these efforts proved to be unsuccessful at sparking a larger movement.
In the daring scene that quickly went viral, How to Get Away With Murder leading lady Viola Davis can be seen snatching off her wig and pulling off her false eyelashes.
It was celebrated as a powerful scene, but not only did it fail to garner any copycats but it also didn’t go far enough for some viewers.
After that intimate scene, Davis’ character goes back to her usual collection of wigs.
“That shiny wig keeps her in The Help,” Michaela Angela Davis, an image activist who champions more positive and broader representations of Black women in the media, said to NBC. “Natural hair is a sign of modernity, worn increasingly by powerful women in many professions. The fact that we are not seeing that reflected on TV is really interesting.”
Either way, it was still a groundbreaking scene. It was just, unfortunately, the only scene of its kind in recent prime-time TV history.
Even as natural hair is missing from hit TV shows, some stars, including Davis and 12 Years a Slave star Lupita Nyong’o, have hit the red carpet with their natural hair on display.
Only time will tell when more roles will feature women like Tracee Ellis Ross sporting the big natural hairstyles that more and more Black women have been embracing.
Ross, along with her head full of bouncy curls, is currently starring in ABC’s new comedy Black–ish.
According to Davis, until actresses lose the fear of being limited by their natural hairstyles and show creators encourage women to rock their natural looks, weaves and wigs may continue to dominate the TV beauty landscape.