Sanaa Lathan broke the internet when she revealed her big chop last September. Lathan, who has dazzled the big screen since the late ‘90s, has rocked a number of styles throughout her career— but this moment was different.
Lathan’s big chop was a part of her role as Violet Jones in Nappily Ever After, which hits Netflix on September 21. Shaving her head was a huge moment for both her character in the movie and her unscripted life.
“My hair journey up till now has really just been you know regular black girl hair journey, you know, just dealing with all the things that we deal with black women in this culture,” she told The Root.
As a black actress, hair is one of Lathan’s first considerations when working on a new role. The uncertainty of stepping on a set without knowing if the glam team would know how to style black hair made the actress turn to wigs for several films. This is a reality for many black actors in the business. When the character of Violet Jones came along, Lathan had to make a new decision: to shave off all of her hair.
“I knew in the back of my mind that that was the strongest choice to actually really shave my head but you know every other day I was like you know what we can just get a prosthetic wig cap,” she laughed. “But the more I kind of got into the character Violet, I realized I had to, if I was going to serve her as a character and serve this story, which I think is really important, especially at this moment in our culture. I had to do it.”
So, she did it. Lathan shaved her hair off in one take. The tears, the smiles, the moments of “euphoria” as she describes it, witnessed in the Nappily Ever After trailer? That was all real. By glancing at Lathan’s Instagram, it’s easy to assume that she’s enjoying her big chop. Her page is adorned with fiercely confident photos. But of course, it’s not as easy as it may look online.
“There are days where I feel insecure and I have to breathe, because it still is many years of conditioning that beauty comes in long hair,” she says. “But, it kind of feels liberating.”
In Nappily Ever After, Violet Jones embarks on a journey of self-discovery and self-love. In the trailer, Lathan’s character is visibly frustrated when the picture-perfect life she imagines doesn’t quite go as planned. That picture perfect life includes a wedding ring. Her character, like many women, has to grapple with the fact that marriage does not have to be the ultimate goal.
“We have been conditioned to believe that we are not complete unless we have this picture but when you actually look at the picture and a lot of what’s happening in the world the picture is not working,” Lathan tells The Root. “If you know if anything is failing more than way more than half of the time and I’m talking about divorce, you have to look at the institution.”
For Sanaa Lathan, the growth of her character in Nappily Ever After is aligned with the space she inhabits in her real life. She’s in tune with who she is and what she wants, and nothing is more liberating than that.
“I think this is a great time for women in terms of reassessing our power and who we are and what we want for ourselves,” says Lathan. “The whole idea that men have to approve of you and getting our self-worth through the male gaze, I’m all for turning that around and getting our self-worth from within.”
Watch our interview with Sanaa Lathan above.