Sonequa Martin-Green Knows the Impact Her Natural Hair Can Have on Television
The Star Trek: Discovery star tells HelloGiggles about what it’s been like standing her ground.
For many people, embarking on a natural hair journey often follows a story of self-discovery and self-acceptance, and in recent years, more women of color have chosen to embrace their natural hair. The stereotypical definition of beauty, which was once defined by straight hair, has since been reimaged by women wearing their natural hair in an array of styles, colors, and cuts. Actress Sonequa Martin-Green is an example.
Martin-Green is famously known as the first-ever female Black lead in Star Trek: Discovery, where she plays Michael Burnham, and she's worn her natural hair on screen for many years. However, she shares that there was a time when she felt natural hair was ugly. Ahead of the release of "Space Jam 2" (hitting theaters July 16), in which she stars as Kamiyah James, wife of basketball player LeBron James, the actress shares more on her natural hair journey.
HelloGiggles: You've been natural for several years, but you've previously shared that you relaxed your hair at a young age. What made you decide to do this?
Sonequa Martin-Green: I think I was affected by the same thing that a lot of us have been affected by—that sort of European standard of beauty. I felt that my hair was an issue and that it was ugly. I felt that it needed to be changed. When I was 12, I went to my mother and said I wanted to relax my hair. I was conditioned to believe that to be pretty, my hair needed to be straight.
HG: When did you decide to transition back to natural hair?
SMG: One day, I got offered a role in a play where my character was a runaway slave who had been taken in by a native tribe. It occurred to me that the slave's hair wouldn't have been relaxed like mine was at the time, so I cut off the perm to get back to my natural roots and I've never looked back.
HG: Did your role in this play spark your decision to transition back to natural?
SMG: I'd say playing this character was the catalyst—I wanted to be authentic in the role. Once I cut my hair, I fell in love [with it] and that was the beginning of my process of accepting my natural beauty, accepting myself, accepting the way my hair comes out of my scalp, accepting the way God made me, and seeing it for all its glory.
HG: Have you faced any challenges in Hollywood by choosing to have natural hair?
SMG: Yes, when I was younger I was met with the resistance of those archaic standards of beauty in Hollywood. There were times where it was accepted by the industry for me to have natural hair in my normal day-to-day life, but when it came to work, the assumption was that they would straighten my hair for the role, especially if my character was to be considered beautiful.
HG: How did you combat this?
SMG: I had to go against the grain, take the risk and make a decision to say, "No, I want the characters I play to have natural hair as well." This was a huge undertaking at that time, but I finally made that decision.
HG: Are you still expected to straighten your hair for most of the roles you play?
SMG: Things have changed in the industry and the world. People are much more accepting of themselves and I think that we are more accepting of each other as a society. We still have a long way to go, but there has certainly been an improvement. When I first made that decision to go natural years ago, I was a bit of an outlier. Things were different and it was very important for me to voice my opinion. Now, I consider the character and the impact that I'd like to make in the role.
HG: When you accepted the role for Star Trek: Discovery, were there any discussions about how the producers wanted your hair to look?
SMG: With Star Trek: Discovery, it was important to me that my character, Burnham, had natural hair because I knew the impact that would have and the statement it would make—especially with me being the first Black woman to helm a Star Trek franchise. I would not have taken no for an answer—I wanted to make a sociopolitical statement by having natural hair. The great thing is, all the decision-makers agreed 100% and wanted me to have natural hair, too.
HG: A few years ago, you decided to cut your hair short; what brought about this decision?
SMG: I think it was just the time that my life was requiring. I was working constantly. My son had just turned two and I started working on Star Trek: Discovery and worked really long hours—I just didn't have the time to devote to my hair anymore. My weekends became invaluable and I didn't have time for a five-hour wash day on Saturdays. I realized that my family was more important.
HG: Now you have short hair, what's your hair care regime?
SMG: It is so simplified, my hair is done in a matter of minutes. I just love it. I use Giovanni 50/50 Balanced Hydrating Clarifying Shampoo and the brand's Balanced Hydrating Calming Conditioner. I've been using both for quite some time now and my hair loves them. And then in terms of styling, I always come back to Kinky-Curly Not Today Leave-in Detangler followed by the brand's Original Curling Custard. During the week, I moisturize my hair with warm filtered water and Jojoba oil. I've been able to simplify my regime and it's improved my quality of life.