When you have a conversation with Michaela angela Davis, it becomes glowingly apparent that Black women occupy a special space in her heart. The multi-hyphenate storyteller has made celebrating the expansiveness of Black women a signature of her creative output.
The common thread in her work, whether helming beauty and fashion at legacy publications like Essence and Vibe, or co-creating a memoir with one of the world's most iconic singers (a.k.a. Mariah Carey), continues to be uplifting the nuanced legacy of Black women in heartfelt ways.
In Davis' latest offering, a docu-series titled The Hair Tales, viewers are presented with an exploration of self-actualization and joy through Black women sharing hair stories. Davis created and executive produced the series, with Oprah and Tracee Ellis Ross also serving as executive producers.
Ahead of the final episodes of The Hair Tales, which airs on OWN and Hulu, we caught up with Davis about her connection to her hair, being in community with other Black women, and why she believes Black women are from the future.
Let's start with your relationship with your hair. What are some ways of wearing your hair that feel like you're embodying your authentic self?
That's an easy one. When I wear my hair in an Afro, I feel like it's the closest expression of myself. There are reasons for that, and it's not just because I feel like it looks strong or like a halo. But you know, I'm fluorescent beige.
C'mon, Beyoncé reference.
Right. My brother used to call me opalescent. For all the super light-skinned, super Black people, we are fluorescent beige. [Laughs] But the phrase right after it [in the song "Cozy"] also gives it power. Fluorescent beige, bitch, I'm Black.
I'm Black and blonde. That is also a very particular position in the Black community and the sisterhood. So my hair is a flashpoint. When it's in an Afro, it is clear that I'm connected to you.
It was my first act of liberation. When I first got my braids cut into an afro, I wrote a piece about it in The Atlantic. When I was on CNN, I was the only contributor with an Afro on the mainstream news. When there were so few fashion editors in the community, I was the girl with the Afro. I have so much identity connected to my Afro. It's also very empowering when I wear cornrows.
That reminds me of episode 2 of Hair Tales, Issa Rae's episode. That episode made me realize Black hair stories are timeless, like onscreen stories about romantic love and heartache, and Hair Tales felt like its own type of love story.
That's why I made it. I'm very touched you articulated it like that. Underneath the thesis of "using hair as an organizing principle to talk about Black women's identity, beauty, and humanity" is the real intention. Storytelling is how humans heal and mark themselves in the world. These hair stories were about giving Black women's lives and culture a place in the legacy and lexicon of humanity.
I wasn't expecting to be as moved as I was when watching the series. It was a beautiful experience, and it feels fresh.
I love that. That was a real desire. The show has several components, like the traditional structure of a play. You have the table talk where [host] Tracee [Ellis Ross] is getting the story, then the scholars and the cultural critics give you context, and then we have the salon chorus, which acts like a Greek chorus, giving you commentary. They were vital in keeping the contemporary energy.
I love that the salon scenes are woven throughout the series because the salon is such a sacred place for many Black women.
There are very few places where a Black woman doesn't feel hunted or pressed—the salon is one of them. The salon is also really democratic. You can sit next to an atheist, a Muslim, or a governor. And it's more than church or a sorority. You must agree on some philosophical thing in most of these other places. In the salon, there's such a variety. If that person is laying your hair right, you don't care who they are.
I did a pilot a few years ago with Stacey Abrams. We were sitting in a salon with someone who could be the next governor while she was getting her hair twisted next to this girl who was a college student at Clark Atlanta University. There are very few places that gather women across the spectrum. It was extremely intentional to reflect our diversity while recognizing our connectedness. Maybe you call it Black Girl Magic, but there is something we have that is universal.
Another element of the series I appreciated was how double standards around hair were explored in Chika's episode. She spoke about how being plus-size, dark-skinned, and queer meant that cutting her hair off would widely be read as hypermasculine, while the same style on a skinny white or light-skinned woman of color would be read as an embrace of femininity. I resonated with that.
I love that she made that point, and Chika was a great example of the complexity of intersectionality. I was so grateful for her.
Another great point Chika made was what it would be like if we could have the space to exist instead of spending so much time unlearning and trying to heal. That's something I've thought about a lot in the past.
No one knows that's the experience Black women are having until it comes out of someone's mouth. But what was interesting about Chika's point was the labor and negotiating we must do to get out the door or get through our day. I made this for Black women first and foremost, and I wanted us to have that acknowledged. But I also wanted non-Black women to hear that and understand what it takes for us to sit in the room.
When people outside of the culture see it, I hope they know what it takes to become a Ketanji Brown Jackson. Let Black women lead; it will be a much more efficient journey to democracy and agency because we're from the future. We've had to deal with environmental violence, sexual violence, poverty, multi-generational sickness, and abysmal healthcare—all the things that people are grappling with now. Do you know what I mean?
Yeah, there's been a lot of spiritual, psychological, and physical violence.
All of it. And we're still here and shining. So, use Black women's strength and be inspired—and then leave us alone so we can rest.