For much of American history, Black hair has been a source of contention in society. Forced to hide behind Eurocentric standards of beauty, Black hair is often considered unruly or unkempt — rarely ever seen as beautiful by those outside of Black culture. In recent years, a movement to make feelings toward Black hair more inclusive has been gaining ground. One local theatre production, Three Bone Theatre’s mounting of The Glorious World of Crowns, Kinks, and Curls, will join that movement this weekend.
Opening Friday, May 5, at the Arts Factory at West End Studios, The Glorious World of Crowns, Kinks, and Curls consists of a collection of monologues that explore many aspects of Black womanhood and Black hair. Queen City Nerve spoke with Tina Kelly, director of The Glorious World of Crowns, as well as Ashleigh Gilliam and Ka’Shara Davis-Hall, both actresses in the production, to discuss what Black hair and this production means to them.
“The play is about Black women’s hair and different stories that Black women go through, whether they’re stories of joy, sorrow, different obstacles, things like that,” Kelly said.
Three Bone Theatre’s website describes the play as “in the tradition of The Vagina Monologues and For Colored Girls…,” featuring the voices of Black women from around the globe recalling moments in which their hair — and their complicated relationships with that hair — took center stage.
According to Kelly, not only does the play center stories about Black womanhood and their hair, but also address the complex relationship Black women tend to have with each other’s hair.
“I don’t think we really talk about how we police each other with our hair,” Kelly told Queen City Nerve. “I don’t think that we talk about hair in relation to motherhood, a lot of those kinds of things that are not necessarily the Instagram kind of topics that are happening that we really do deal with on a very regular basis, but there’s no conversation around it.”
Davis-Hall echoed this sentiment when speaking about Black women’s shame in relation to their hair. Eurocentric standards of beauty that Black folks often strive to live up to in terms of hair — Black women in particular — that can sometimes lead to struggles with identity that aren’t always apparent on the surface.
“It’s crazy because it’s almost like the shame that I had realized, but I guess it was somehow buried a little bit,” she said. “Or maybe you covered up over all the shallowness, like [Kelly] said, like Instagram and everything that we try to do and all the different hairstyles we try to do to try to cover up our ultimate shame of the nappy and things like that. I love that this show addresses that.
“It’s almost in protest,” she continued. “It’s almost in resistance to the shame we was born into. Essentially it’s just there.”
The production includes more than just stories of disappointment associated with Black hair, there are plenty of good feelings as well. The play is called The Glorious World of Crowns, Kinks, and Curls after all.
Hair was everything to Davis-Hall, who grew up in salons and recalled what an impact that made on her.
“My mom is a hairstylist, so growing up, she would always do my hair. So that’s like the catalyst of my life. It’s just centered around being at the hair salon 24 hours in a day sometimes,” she said. Just the community, it’s like a foundation for Black women that if you have no idea, if you’re outside of that sometimes, you just don’t have the knowledge that that’s such a critical part of our lives is our hair, what’s on our head and really, how you grow up and what you hear about your hair growing up, whether it’s positive, affirmations, or negative.”
Salons also had a significant impact on Gilliam’s life, but she didn’t put much thought into it until she auditioned for The Glorious World of Kinks, Crowns, and Curls.
“I grew up with going to the salon every Saturday getting a perm, getting it flat-ironed,” she said. “And then Sunday, you know, go to church and you get to see different hairstyles and things like that.
“But what it really was — and I didn’t even notice it until I did the audition and I had a chance to see the different monologues that they had,” she continued. “And the one that really spoke to me that I was really interested in is that it’s a mother talking about how she gave birth and all this stuff that it comes with, but she didn’t even think about postpartum hair loss and how we think of our hair being what makes us a woman.”
Gilliam went into further detail about postpartum hair loss, a topic not often discussed openly, and how women can feel less of a woman without their hair.
“Hair being that main thing, that’s something that is connected to our womanhood, and we get to see our hair and all our glory,” she said. “But then when you see it coming out and you’re like, ‘Well, damn, I mean, what’s really going on with me?’ So I think that was one of the biggest things that I kind of saw that’s interesting in this play.”
It’s the complexities of these feelings, the importance of the stories, that make this play so crucial, made all the more important in that they are represented by women of color with their own experiences to add to the mix.
“I think that because there are so many different representations of the diaspora, every brown woman is going to find themselves in this play one way or another,” Kelly said.
“It’s like a spectrum … it’s like a chocolate spectrum,” Davis-Hall added.
If there’s one thing you should come away from this production, it’s that, for Black women, hair is much more than just hair.
“I feel like it’s our identity,” Gilliam said.
“It’s our joy,” Davis-Hall added.
“I think it’s how we communicate without words, because how do you communicate your femininity without anybody knowing who you are?” Kelly asked. “It’s number one: what you have on and how you do your hair, period.”
This play, and the story it will tell, are important to the people involved, but it’s also a rare opportunity for those on the outside to try to get a glimpse at how Black women think and feel in relation to their hair — their knowledge of how society views their hair and how they react in kind.
Become a Nerve Member: Get better connected and become a member of Queen City Nerve to support local journalism for as little as $5 per month. Our community journalism helps inform you through a range of diverse voices.
This work by Queen City Nerve is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.