11 TV and Movie Moments That Changed The Way We Look At Our Natural Hair

Our natural hair has always been our crown. But throughout the decades, it hasn’t always been easy to see it that way. 

Whether through law or just as a way to survive, Black women have long had to force our hair to do what it wasn’t meant to do naturally: lay down flat and straight.

Until this past decade, we only witnessed representation of natural hair in spurts, and before that I’m not sure we even had the chance to realize just how gorgeous and versatile textured strands can be. 

However, there have always been a handful of bold women in the public sphere who were willing to take risks to ensure the rest of us felt seen. 

Here, we take a look back at some of the most memorable moments in TV and movie history that paved the way for Hollywood’s slow embrace of natural hair. 

This is All Natural. From the kinkiest coils to loose waves, we’re celebrating natural hair in its many forms by sharing expert tips for styling, maintenance, and haircare.

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Cicely Tyson in “East Side/West Side,” 1963 to 1964

Cicely Tyson’s unforgettable and iconic hair for her 1963 performance in East Side/West Side is what kicked off the natural hair movement. “I got letters from hairdressers all over the country, telling me that I was affecting their business because their clients were having their hair cut off so they could wear it like the girl on television,” she shared on Oprah’s Master Class back in 2014. 

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Pam Grier in “Hit Man,” 1972

Pam Grier was the it-girl of the 1970s. Throughout the decade, the acclaimed actress rocked a beautiful Afro throughout most of her films, including Hit Man, encouraging other Black women to do the same. 

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Esther Rolle in “Good Times,” 1974 to 1979

With her cropped Afro and signature gap, the beloved and relatable Florida Evans, played by Esther Rolle, became a staple in Black households throughout the 1970s. The character was so loved that she went from a reoccurring role on Maude to starring in her own series Good Times. 

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Lisa Bonet in “The Cosby Show,” 1984 to 1992

While locs have become more normalized over the years, Lisa Bonet shocked The Cosby Show fans when she returned to the show with the look in the late ’80s. However, the actress, who herself has been labeled as a sex symbol for decades, proved that this ancestral style not only belonged on television, but was just as beautiful as any other hairstyle. 

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Janet Jackson in “Poetic Justice,” 1993

Aside from Brandy’s Moesha style, Janet Jackson’s hair from her 1993 role in Poetic Justice has gone down in history as one of the most iconic braided looks of all time. To this day, Black women still point to Justice’s braids as inspiration for their current styles. 

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Brandy in “Moesha,” 1996 to 2001

Speaking of Moesha, Brandy helped to usher in the modern day era of protective styles, which, of course, were inspired by ancestral looks. Nearly every Black girl in the ’90s and early ’00s wanted “Brandy braids.” Oh, and who can forget the time Moesha Mitchell refused to take down her hair in order to fit in with her peers at her new private school? Absolutely legendary. 

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Brandy in “Cinderella,” 1997

Aside from the UPN series, Brandy totally changed the game when she starred in Cinderella. With her performance, finally, we were able to see the classic fairytale in a whole new light. This version (which also starred the incredible Whitney Houston) proved that Black girls, with our brown skin, wide noses, and braids — features we were taught were “wrong” or “bad” — could be princesses, too. 

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Tracee Ellis Ross in “Girlfriends,” 2000 to 2008

While the early ’00s marked a period of silky straight styles and relaxers, Joan Carol Clayton, an attorney at Goldberg, Swedelson, McDonald, and Lee, a prestigious L.A. lawfirm, proved that natural hair belonged in the workplace. But career aside, Tracee Ellis Ross’ beloved character did not only wear her hair in perfectly defined curls. Several scenes showcased Joan’s hair in a frizzy, ready-for-wash-day state, making her all the more relatable for Black women watching at home. 

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Nathalie Emmanuel in “Game of Thrones,” 2011 to 2019

Seeing a Black woman in a fantasy show, taking place during Medieval times, with her natural hair out in full display is not something we see on television very often. So while some may say Nathalie Emmanuel character Missandei only played a minor role in the series, it was major for us. 

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Viola Davis in “How to Get Away With Murder,” 2014 to 2020

There was truly no better pairing for this scene than Viola Davis, who played Annalise Keating, and the great Cicely Tyson, who performed as her mother. During this episode, Annalise falls apart emotionally, and looks for comfort by going back to a childhood ritual Black women know so well: sitting between her mother’s knees and letting her mom comb her hair. 

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Issa Rae in “Insecure,” 2016 to Present

While most natural textures have been both accepted and embraced, 4C hair still gets labeled as “unmanageable,” “bad,” “ugly,” and a whole slew of negative attributes. However, working with hairstylist Felicia Leatherwood, Issa Rae, who plays Issa Dee on the show, has single-handedly shown the world just how versatile and beautiful this coily texture is. 

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