The first thing I asked Kaci Walfall during our interview was: “who does your hair?”
Walfall, who stars in the CW series Naomi, immediately understood the excitement behind my curiosity, exclaimed “great question!”
Walfall’s titular character is the television iteration of the DC superhero Powerhouse. While in the comics Naomi has matured into her powers, the CW series expands on her origin story, picking up when she first discovers her capabilities as a teenager in Oswego, Oregon.
First introduced in 2019, Powerhouse is a fairly new superhero and one of DC’s few Black female characters. In comics, Naomi’s hair is often styled in short braids, but after multiple hair tests, it was decided that TV’s Naomi would have long box braids.
Her hair brings me back to my days watching Moesha or That’s So Raven, some of the few times I saw Black characters with hair and makeup styles that were realistic and fun to look at. Although we’re decades away from the early ’00s shows that established my love for television, Hollywood’s hair and makeup departments are still catching up. (Please Google “Tyler Perry Wigs” for a fun ride).
Walfall immediately felt a kinship with her character, as she often wears braids in real life, and was even wearing braids when she auditioned. What’s even more special about Naomi’s braids is that she wears them in all different styles, something that I find symbolic.
As Walfall said during our interview “It shows you and reminds people that there are so many different hairstyles that Black girls can do but specifically in braids. You don’t just have to wear your braids down.”
She went on to discuss the process of choosing Naomi’s hairstyles, saying that they often reflect the mood of the character. Jerica Edwards and Porshawna Mosley were the stylists Walfall named in truly crafting the teenager’s look. Edward and Mosley have also worked on hair for the CW’s All American.
I’ve had my hair in long locs since I was a young child, so I understand how showing Black hair existing in a Black state on television is still something to talk about. I remember being asked in high school what I would “do with” my hair for my wedding as if locs are so barbaric they wouldn’t be appropriate for such an occasion.
Naomi’s hair in the show pushes back on the notion that Black hairstyles always have to mimic Eurocentric standards, or that Black natural hair is somehow radical instead of just a natural expression of self. Too often we only see Afros and braids on television as a device to emphasize Black power.
The history behind Black hair and the oppression of Black aesthetics often turns our natural hair into a political statement, but in Naomi, she wears her hair the way most of us do: as an extension of ourselves and our personalities. This is symbolic of the ethos that Naomi was created with.
Co-creator Ava DuVernay has spoken about how her intentions in the creation and production of the series were to focus on normalization as opposed to simply representation. At a panel for Naomi, DuVernay stated: “The more you can portray images without underlining or highlighting them and putting a star next to them…we start to make that normal and that’s a radical and revolutionary thing.”
The series allows Walfall’s character to exist in a way that Black characters before her couldn’t. Unfortunately, for the majority of Hollywood’s history, Black stories are considered niche or told to serve a historical purpose (think of how many Civil Rights and slave movies and television shows are out there). But now, as we see more strides for diversity being made, more nuanced Black stories get to exist where Black characters can exist as humans without the white gaze.
“It is representation, but it’s not tokenism. It’s so great to tell that story. A lot of that is in the script Ava and Jill [Blankenship], the other co-creator, do such a good job with that,” Walfall said. “Making sure there are people that look like me in the writing room is super important. You cannot write for a young Black girl if you don’t have anyone that looks like her in the room.”
Walfall, who is still in her senior year of high school in New York, is a member of this young generation of actors who are reaping the benefits of their predecessors through the roles that are presented to them. This privilege is something that Walfall is conscious of.
“To be within this space with other young actors, specifically young Black actors, is so special because we’re an upcoming generation telling stories that haven’t been told before,” she said. “We’re grateful and inspired by the projects we have.”
This sense of gratitude is evident when Walfall speaks about working with DuVernay. She endearingly refers to the director as “Ms. Ava,” something that I’m sure makes Black moms everywhere smile. Moments like this throughout our interview reminded me of how, like her character, Walfall is able to exist in her Blackness without needing to scream it from the rooftops.
Since Walfall is from New York, where she attends a performing arts school, diversity is normal for her, she told me that usually when she’s the only Black person in the room it’s for something for work. This goes to show how outdated Hollywood is, if you watch shows like Seinfeld or Friends it’s hard to realize that New York is one of the most diverse cities on the planet.
“I’ve been in spaces, especially within this industry, where I have been the only Black girl there. Sometimes my opinions have been listened to and sometimes they have not,” Walfall said. “But I’m grateful for those experiences because they taught me life lessons, and I’m grateful for the experiences I’m in now because I’m able to speak up.”
Shows like Naomi, ABC’s Abbott Elementary, and HBO Max’s Southside represent a pivotal time in entertainment: a time where Black actors, hairstylists, makeup artists, directors, and producers have the opportunity to show up as their full selves at work, not just as the checkmark on the diversity box. And it’s clear that young Hollywood is ready to pick up the baton and run with it.