By Sheryl Estrada
Nathalie Emmanuel’s decision to wear her natural hairstyle as a professional actress is not only self-affirming, but shows women that it’s possible to be your authentic self in Hollywood.
Emmanuel plays Missandei on the widely popular TV show “Game of Thrones,” which airs on HBO (a division of Time Warner, No. 37 on the DiversityInc Top 50 Companies list). An average of more than 23 million Americans watched each episode of the show last season.
Her character is a freed slave who becomes the trusted advisor to Daenerys Targaryen. As one of few people of color in the medieval fantasy epic’s cast of actors, Emmanuel said her natural hair stands out to fans.
She often receives messages from mothers asking her to convince their young daughters that their natural hair is beautiful. Emmanuel can relate to what the young girls are going through.
“I think my hair is the first thing people recognize me for,” Emmanuel said in a recent interview with Byrdie, an online beauty products publication. “And I’m happy about that, because I think we’ve all gotten so used to women straightening and changing their natural hair.”
The actress was born in Essex, England, in 1989 and comes from a family of multiracial heritage. Her mother is Dominican and father is half Saint Lucian and half English.
Emmanuel had roles in the films “Furious 7″ and “Furious 8.” Because she is of mixed heritage, she appreciated the diversity of the cast.
“For anyone who’s of mixed heritage or a minority, to be in a film where diversity is celebrated and isn’t treated as such a big deal, or isn’t even mentioned, is so refreshing,” she told The Daily Beast. “I’d like to see more of that in Hollywood, to be honest.”
As a child, Emmanuel experienced environments where diversity was not accepted. Her primary school actually shunned her natural hair. In one instance the school insisted her mother braid her locks because wearing it out wasn’t “safe.”
“So my hair was always slicked down or put in braids, sort of hidden away,” she told Byrdie.
Emmanuel wished she had straight hair like her classmates.
“I think a lot of women with textured hair go through that same journey, where they want to chemically straighten their hair,” she said. “And that’s fine if that’s what makes you happy, but I think many women feel trapped by it.”
But when Emmanuel was in high school, she visited the Saint Lucian side of her family, causing her to embrace her curls.
“Something about being there and embracing the culture made me realize for the first time that my hair is a part of my mixed-race heritage,” she said. “It’s a part of me.”
After returning home from her trip, Emmanuel started wearing an afro to high school. Over the years, she has experimented with different products to perfect her hairstyle.
Emmanuel said she is proud to represent natural hair on television.
“She hopes that by representing natural curls in real life and on screen, the world will catch onto their beauty,” according to Byrdie.
Another television actress who decided to embrace her natural hair is Taraji P. Henson. In June, Henson, who stars in the TV show “Empire,” opted for a short haircut to showcase her natural curls. Henson debuted her hairstyle on Instagram. Her longtime stylist Tym Wallace told Refinery29 that her haircut is symbolic.
“She’s showing that she’s all for the Black girl magic — showing these young Black girls that you are not defined by what society paints as beautiful when it comes to a Black woman and her hair.”
Henson hosted the 2017 Black Girls Rock! Awards at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., on Saturday. The awards show, airing on BET August 22, honors the groundbreaking achievements of Black women who have broken barriers in the areas of art, business, entertainment and community service.