Once you realize the amount of racist microagressions that infiltrate our everyday lives, it’s hard to un-see them.
Hollywood is no exception. In fact, it’s probably a magnifying glass for these kinds of issues. We’re not just talking about the ongoing lack of diversity on screen, but the lack of diversity behind the scenes as well, in every department.
One area in particular that has historically suffered from a lack of Black artists is the hair department. This is true on major blockbuster films right down to the Disney Channel — including the iconic DCOM High School Musical.
Monique Coleman, who played Taylor McKessie in the juggernaut series, recently spoke with Insider for the 15th anniversary of HSM and revealed the backstory behind her character’s classic headband look. She shared:
“We’ve grown a lot in this industry and we’ve grown a lot in representation and we’ve grown a lot in terms of understanding the needs of an African American actress. But the truth is, is that they had done my hair, and they had done it very poorly in the front.”
Luckily, she said, “the wardrobe department was very open to our feedback.” It was actually Monique’s idea to “incorporate headbands into her character” and “just make that a part of who she is.”
It’s true that Taylor’s headbands were a perfect accessory for the bright, nerdy character, but ultimately it’s a problem that the young actress had to come up with a solution to the issue on her own.
And unfortunately, this issue is still ongoing. Over the summer, The Bold Type’s Aisha Dee wrote that it took three seasons of the Freeform series “to get someone in the hair department who knew how to work with textured hair.” Similarly, Riverdale’s Bernadette Beck told Glamour she styles herself rather than face the “sheer embarrassment” of working with someone who doesn’t know how to “manage” her hair. And these are just two of the most recent examples of this trend out of the many, many actresses who have spoken up about it, including Halle Berry, Queen Latifah, Yvette Nicole Brown, and more.
Over in the HSM world, Monique was still proud of the representation Taylor provided to the Disney audience. She reflected:
“I’m really grateful to have been someone who was able to bring representation at a time where there wasn’t very much, and I’m so happy when I see this next generation of young artists and there just being so much more room for people of color. … It means the world to me, particularly because Taylor is such a dynamic character and the smartest person at school and all of that at a time where, often, Black girl characters tended to be the ones who had an attitude or to be sassy.”
The 40-year-old added:
“And I appreciated that that wasn’t why people loved Taylor. They loved her because she was smart and supportive. And it definitely means a lot to me for people to see her. There was Taylor before the Obamas were a thing. So we didn’t have people to look up to. … So knowing that this generation got to look up to her really is special for me.”
Count us among the Taylor McKessie stans — but we really hope all the future Taylors out there are treated better behind the scenes.
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