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‘The Hair Tales’ Premiere Review: Black Women’s Stories of Trauma and Joy

Tracee Ellis Ross hosts Hulu’s docuseries “The Hair Tales,” a dynamic celebration of Black women's identity, beauty, culture, told through stories of their hair.
Tracee Ellis Ross hosts Hulu’s docuseries “The Hair Tales,” a dynamic celebration of Black women's identity, beauty, culture, told through stories of their hair. By Courtesy of Hulu
By Najya S. Gause, Contributing Writer

It is said that cornrows braided on the heads of the enslaved often held maps to navigate the Underground Railroad. In many ways, hair still holds this power of freedom. Hulu’s new series “The Hair Tales,” executive produced by Oprah Winfrey, Tracee Ellis Ross, and Michaela Angela Davis, premiered its first two episodes on Oct. 22. The series follows actress Tracee Ellis Ross as she interviews prominent Black women — Oprah Winfrey, Issa Rae, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, Chlöe Bailey, CHIKA, and Marsai Martin — about their relationships with their hair. Ross recognizes that the aim of her show may be lost to some. “It can feel like it’s just a conversation about hair,” she says, “But it’s not. Especially not for Black women.”

The first two episodes feature Oprah Winfrey and Issa Rae, respectively. Ross’s one-on-one interviews with her two guests are interspersed with clips of Black women getting their hair done in a salon and having conversations with each other and their stylists about Black hair and community. These scenes are beautifully integrated into the show’s overarching dialogue about hair and sisterhood, as the women share their individual experiences and find commonalities amidst the combing, twisting, and braiding of the salon.

In response to Ross’s insightful questions, Winfrey and Rae share moments in their lives when their hair was a source of trauma. In a tear-jerking scene, Winfrey, who refers to her hair as her “crown and glory,” recalls being sent to New York by her boss to “fix” her hair, as it was “too thick” and was interfering with their technical ability to portray her on the news. “It didn’t even occur to me that it was racial,” she says, “I thought I just wasn’t pretty enough.” For too many Black women, experiences such as this are common and relatable. Watching an iconic figure such as Oprah Winfrey be open and vulnerable about her own hair trauma is both touching and empowering — for those with crowns and for those without them.

Alongside these stories of trauma, however, are stories of joy. Rae reflects on the versatility of Black hair, and the ways in which it can tell the story of a person’s life. She remembers the gratification of realizing that her hair could be a medium for expression and liberation. “There’s a specific validation of just being and living in you,” she says. The women in the salon scenes echo this sentiment, laughing and smiling as they describe the unparalleled elegance and grace they feel when they know their hair looks good. Despite the fact that trauma is ever-present in the hair stories of many Black women, “The Hair Tales” does a commendable job of displaying the joy that inevitably shines through.

“Every kink, curl, and coil in a Black woman’s crown has a hair tale,” narrates Ross at the beginning of every episode. By sharing their stories, Winfrey and Rae invite viewers to join them in their reflection of what their hair means to them. Additionally, the inclusion of historical details about how Black women’s hair has evolved over the centuries solidifies the idea that for Black women, hair is never just hair. Trauma, joy, and freedom are entangled in every Black woman's curls — and Ross asks all the right questions to create a safe space for Black women everywhere to be vulnerable and heard.

The first two episodes of “The Hair Tales” are immensely promising and viewers everywhere should be excited for what’s to come.

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