Last night on How To Get Away With Murder, Annalise Keating — as played by Viola Davis — sat down on the floor between her mother's knees and had her hair combed. Her mother, Ophelia, played expertly by Cicely Tyson, tugged small sections and talked about their complicated past while Annalise stared straight ahead, her neck jerking ever so slightly back with each pull. You could hear the gentle scritch of the comb against her 4C hair.
It's an innocuous scene, but the familiarity of it hit me like a ton of bricks. I could smell the Dax pomade on Ophelia's fingers and feel the jab of that pointed end of the comb while she carved delicate parts and sections on Annalise's scalp. I've spent approximately 8,000 hours on living room floors, ears cuffed by my own mother's knees, having my own hair parted and "oiled up" and braided. It's so familiar, and something I've never seen on TV before—the delicate dance of black women, crafting our hair and talking to each other, bonding.
It's worth noting that this scene — involving just two women, both over 40, wearing very little or no makeup — was riveting.
How To Get Away With Murder is so good at showing these small slices of black culture. There was a joyous yawp all over Twitter when Annalise took off her wig for the first time—white fans were mostly astonished, but black fans knew they were seeing a warrior disrobing. You can turn on any TV channel and see a white woman brushing her hair, flipping it around on a shampoo commercial, and having it caressed, but it's so rare that we get to see the process of black beauty in a way that is respectful and real. It's so rare that we get to see how tenderly black women care for each other, and themselves.
Danielle Henderson is a lapsed academic, heavy metal karaoke machine, and culture editor at Fusion. She enjoys thinking about how race, gender, and sexuality shape our cultural narratives, but not in a boring way.