Zendaya Coleman purposefully–and awesomely–wore a locs hairstyle on the red carpet of the Academy Awards this year, and she did so with very good reason. For women of color attending the biggest moments of their lives, whether it’s an interview for that dream job or a prestigious ceremony of sorts, plans are immediately penciled in for hair to go through a press and curl, or add on clips and extensions. It’s still too big of a deal to see a natural ‘fro or braids on a platform as glamorous and huge as a red carpet or honorable dinner parties. No one remembers when Viola Davis arrived as a Best Supporting Actress nominee (for Doubt) with her hair straightened and at shoulder-length. But we do recall, as we held our hands up in praise, her return to the Oscars, as nominee for Best Actress (for The Help), adorned in Escada, but her hair shown in its natural state of cute coils just dyed in auburn. So graceful and moving, Davis made a statement. We are not our hair, but then again, sometimes our hair warmly represents a people, a culture and a rich history. This year, she did it again, as an Oscar presenter, wearing a short black-brown ‘fro with her voluminous Zac Posen gown. Yassssss!
Unfortunately, our pop culture society remains a bit static on patronizing or making fun of traditional and inspired African-American hairstyles. During Monday night’s episode E!’s Fashion Police, critiquing Oscars fashion, when it was Zendaya’s turn to be reviewed, looking like an African princess with her gown and locs on the screen, E! veteran Giuliana Rancic chose to be really obvious and mean with her comments about her brave choices:
Rancic: “I feel like she smells like patchouli oil…and weed? Maybe weed!”
[Laughter ensues in the studio].
Wow. How obvious. Zendaya’s beautiful locs, worn unexpectedly on a red carpet that interminably looks like a Drybar salon ad, was ridiculed to stoner insults. I shook my head at Rancic and reached for an ol’ faithful response because my first reaction was “You know better.”
These kind of comments always trail people with dreadlocked hairstyles. In 6th grade my teacher made a comment about how people who had dreadlocks didn’t wash their hair and I objectly loudly from my desk, backed my friend nearby. My annoyance stemmed from having a brother who had turned Rastafarian in the last few years, and his hair definitely stayed washed. The comments on E! weren’t necessarily racist, but they were undeniably inappropriate. Did they feel the same way about White teen star Kylie Jenner when she wore faux locs?
Zendaya responded to the mean comments on E! and also to the general criticism she had received from others but her Oscars locs. Today, she posted a personal and powerful stance about why she chose that specific hairstyle and how appalling it was that a person like Rancic couldn’t see the beauty of the message she was sending:
Zendaya choosing to rock long, drumroll please, locs for her first appearance at the Academy Awards was edgy on a stylistic view, but influential for what it stood for. Everything else about her look was classic Hollywood: shimmery, champagne eye makeup, and a pastel-colored dress. But her locs transformed her like an underground princess of cool, bringing a distinguished movement of diversity to the forefront of one of the most revered stages in entertainment. Interestingly, the 2015 Oscars were also the most white-washed of nominations since 1998. Very little people of color were nominated, and the heartbreaking but tour-de-force film Selma only won for Best Original Song (though that was an honor highly well deserved).
Zendaya exhibited a brave and mature move to get her fanbase, and especially her young Black girl fans, to believe in the power of their own beauty with her locs. It may have bypassed individuals like Rancic and others, but for plenty, her voice for a style misunderstood was not overlooked.
Rancic, and even Kelly Obsorne who gave a look of shock during the telecast, have since spoken on Twitter: