From The Atlantic:
The Hulu series The Other Black Girl dramatizes the pains of managing Afro-textured hair—and other people’s perceptions of it.
By Hannah Giorgis
SEPTEMBER 26, 2023
In the 1989 surrealist satire Chameleon Street, two Black men bicker after one says that he prefers women with light skin and “good hair.” After being criticized for the comment, the man makes a self-deprecating joke: “I’m a victim, brotha. I’m a victim of 400 years of conditioning. The Man has programmed my conditioning. Even my conditioning has been conditioned.” Nearly a decade later, the rap duo Black Star would sample the dialogue at the beginning of their song “Brown Skin Lady,” which is framed as a rebuke of this pervasive bias against dark skin and kinkier hair, and an ode to an idealized vision of a head-wrap-donning natural woman whose “skin’s the inspiration for cocoa butter.”
Cocoa butter, a popular component of hair and beauty products targeted at Black women, is an essential ingredient in The Other Black Girl, a new Hulu series based on the 2021 office-novel-slash-surreal-thriller by Zakiya Dalila Harris. The story follows Nella Rogers (played by Sinclair Daniel), a 26-year-old assistant at a New York publishing house where almost all of her co-workers are white. One day, the sweet, muted chocolate scent of cocoa butter wafts toward Nella’s cubicle; she’s soon introduced to her cool new Black colleague, Hazel (Ashleigh Murray), who’s just been hired. But Nella’s initial excitement soon transitions into fear as she realizes that something sinister is hiding beneath Hazel’s head wraps. It turns out that Hazel is a member of a group of young, professional Black women who all use a magical hair grease—one that helps deaden the stresses of corporate racism. Hazel, whom the group calls its “Lead Conditioner,” likens it to “CBD for the soul”; her arrival at Wagner Books is a recruiting mission to force the personality-changing pomade onto Nella, so they can add a future book editor to their ranks.