The history of black hair in TV, film and media

Over the years, the global perception of black hair has fluctuated from one extreme to another, and this is ever-present on TV, film, and media. Through these modes of entertainment, you can see the perception of black hair while it’s essentially frozen in time.

There were moments when black hair was praised in the media and times where our black hair was shunned completely. Let’s look at how black hair was viewed across several decades and how it’s viewed today.

In past decades, there were some obvious trends when it comes to black hair in TV, film, and the media.

Let’s take a look at what was popular during those decades.

100 Years of Black Hair

1920s, 1930s, and 1940s

The 1920s was the time of the flapper, and some styles that were popular at the time are short haircuts and finger waves. Curls were commonly added to the hair to create softness.

Wigs or other hairpieces were also commonly worn. These types of styles were also popular throughout the 30s and 40s.


European beauty standards dominated and straight hair was in. This was portrayed on TV, on film, and in the media. Black hair in its natural state was virtually ignored.


This was the time of the civil rights movement, and many activists wore their natural afros as a symbol of rebellion against white discrimination. However, this was not the only way that hair was worn. Many still wore their hair in straight styles as they did in previous decades.


Afro sheen commercial from the 70s

In the disco era, afros and other natural styles were worn much more often than in previous decades. Whether curls were slathered in grease or combed out, curls were in.


It's Your World, Jheri Curl!

People continued to wear curls in this decade and the afro was worn less often. People preferred to wear Jheri curls and loose textured curls were preferred. These styles were portrayed widely in the media.


In the ’90s, braids (specifically box braids) were popular. Janet Jackson popularized the style in the film, Poetic Justice. In addition, edges were laid with pomades and gels. Straight hair remained popular.

2000s to Present

In recent times, the natural hair movement is going strong. Due to this, you are more likely now than ever to see black hair in its natural state in the media.

Celebrities like Kerry Washington and Tamera Mowry proudly wear their curls at red carpet events or when they are just out and about. These celebrities, and many more who sport their natural hair, are actively encouraging the everyday woman to rock her natural hair.

There is a darker side to black hair in the media that comes to light too often. Not every media outlet is too keen on black hair as it is naturally.

According to Page Six, Solange Knowles’s natural hair was cropped out of a picture for a major magazine in 2017. And in that same year, the same thing happened to Lupita Nyong’o. Both celebrities have expressed their discontentment with the publications. In addition, 2012 Olympic champion Gabby Douglas was bullied all over social media for her hair’s coarse texture.

In movies, you may see black actresses wearing a variety of styles. Depending on the subject matter of the film or show, it may be important to showcase naturally textured hair. However, in the majority of movies filmed in the 2000s, you’ll usually see black women wearing their hair either relaxed or straightened with heat tools.

Wigs and weaves are also a mainstay, popularized by celebrities like Kim Kardashian, Nicki Minaj, and many more.

As you may gather, attitudes toward black hair in the media vary considerably and will continue to evolve for years to come.