For Atlanta’s Zazie Beetz, Straightening Her Natural Hair Is Not an Option
It wasn’t the first time Glover had witnessed a visceral reaction to Zazie Beetz, who is nominated tonight for an Emmy for the role. She has, he says, “an amazing ability to lure people to her with a natural honesty.”
And then there’s her hair.
Worn in an Afro that frames her heart-shaped face and caramel skin, her natural texture was a tipping point for Glover. “Zazie’s hair isn’t straightened, and I wanted her to relate to Van as much as possible,” he says of the feisty character, whose development has benefited from Beetz’s ability to instill elements of herself in the part. “Plus,” he continues, “you don’t see it enough.”
“So many women come up to me, like, ‘Oh, my God, that’s me!’ ” Beetz says, citing the resonance of capturing on camera something as simple as working her strands into Bantu knots or braids, and tucking them under a head wrap—a detangling and stretching ritual that she often performs before bed on the show, as she does for 45 minutes every night in her own life. “That’s what has been wonderful about Atlanta,” Beetz says. “It’s allowed me to celebrate my identity.”
This wasn’t always a possibility for the 27-year-old, who remembers the first time she wore her hair natural. She was in ninth grade at LaGuardia high school of performing arts in Manhattan, and her Afro attracted unexpected attention. “My teachers asked if it was a wig, and strangers on the street came up and touched my hair,” the German-born actor says. That interest emboldened Beetz—until she started meeting with casting directors: “ ‘All right, love your hair, but try to keep it more CBS,’ ” she recalls of a race-neutralizing aesthetic that prevailed in the industry even just a few years ago. But that’s changing, thanks in part to showrunners such as Glover and actors like Beetz who are helping to upend traditional big-screen beauty norms.
Last year, when director David Leitch cast Beetz as the Marvel antihero Domino, who plays opposite Ryan Reynolds in Deadpool 2, he too insisted that her hair go untouched. “I was shocked,” says Beetz, who would have readily adopted the stick-straight, choppy black strands in the original comic. “For David and Ryan, my hair being bold and strong helps Domino come across as bold and strong.”