Throughout the years, we’ve fallen in love with Yaya DaCosta’s full crown of curls. We were first introduced to her in 2004 on America’s Next Top Model. Not only was she the Cycle 3 runner-up, but she was also the contestant who proudly wore her hair in its natural state, much to the chagrin of the show’s judges.
We’ve seen her on a slew of projects since then, including her current role as April Sexton in NBC’s Chicago Med and the highly-anticipated film, Bolden, a project that has been more than 10 years in the making. In the compelling tribute to the legendary New Orleans’ Jazz cornetist Buddy Bolden, DaCosta plays his doting wife, Nora.
We were pleasantly surprised to see the actress donning her signature curls in the film, especially since she dramatically cut her enviable tresses earlier in 2018, disappointing many of her fans.
Hype Hair chatted with the actress about her role in Bolden, hair journey and her honest feelings about being a natural hair muse.
— Jessica De Vault Hale
Hype Hair: Audiences finally have a chance to see Bolden after so many years of waiting. What attracted you to the role of Nora Bolden?
Yaya DaCosta: I would say jazz, and the time period. I love period pieces. I love the original American music, and it is a beautiful story that had not been told. It felt like an honor to be a part of it in any capacity. Buddy Bolden lived in the early version of that kind of rock star lifestyle, and his wife was probably the one grounding thing that he had to hold onto, at least for a while. I was really attracted to that kind of grounding energy and wanted to have fun playing in a period piece, in a time before braziers and lye!
HH: What can our readers expect to see when they watch this film?
Yaya: Truth. This movie is a piece of art. I think Daniel Pritzker is really a visionary with the audacity that he had to do this film the way he wanted to do it. It gives labor of love and perfectionism whole new meanings. Be prepared to be surprised, to be moved, to learn something about the history of music in this country and also our own history. The setting was late — the 1800s, early 1900s — so we all know what was happening in this country around that time. Be pre- pared to see some really strong imagery, strong visu- als surrounding race relations at that time and some beauty, some music, some dance, and some passion. Be prepared to be intoxicated by the beginnings of jazz and the beginnings of fame in this country, and the passion with which Bolden and his bandmates played and the way that they lived their lives.
HH: In light of all of the complaints of Black actresses not receiving appropriate hairstyling on set, it looks like Bolden did right by your hair.
Yaya: Well, Bolden was easy because that was a period piece. That was back in the early 1920s, before Madam C.J. [Walker], before everybody was on that lye crack. People weren’t really doing that, so it was easy. They might have had some wigs, but that was fun because we didn’t have to do much.
HH: You’re well known for your curls. Can you tell me a little bit about your hair journey?
Yaya: With all due respect to the natural hair movement—respect, admiration, support—I think of the term “hair journey” as you’re coming from someplace trying to reach another place, right? You’re looking to either find yourself or get to know your hair in its natural state. Because my hair was always natural, it was never a journey. It just was what it was. I always loved my hair, but I can’t call it a journey. It’s really just an expression of self for me.
HH: I remember when you did America’s Next Top Model. Your unapologetic stance with your hair made an impact back then on a lot of aspiring naturalistas. Given that experience, have you tied your identity to your hair?
Yaya: On the one hand, yes, it’s an expression of who I am, as is my skin color, as is the shape of my eyes and my lips and everything about my appearance is a part of who I am. I was designed this way for a specific reason. So the more I embrace it, the more I’m able to confidently and freely have the experience that I was meant to have in this lifetime.
However, that’s not the most important thing, and I don’t feel like at this stage in my life I need to be loud about it. In 2004, there wasn’t anyone rocking a ‘fro on TV, and that was monumental. I can’t tell you how many times someone tells me that they did the big chop, or they stopped relaxing their hair because of me. It makes my heart so happy and so proud to have been any small part of this beautiful movement. But, there’s a new climate now. In the community, there are so many levels to this newfound sense of pride. Some people can be relaxed with it, and some people can be very militant with it; like newly converted, religious, fanatics. If you use hair dye, they say, “Well now you’re not natural.” Or, if you press it and put heat on it, it’s like sacrilegious. I’m not about that life.
HH: When you cut off your hair last year, did you sense or feel that you were getting some of that zealous, negative pushback?
Yaya: Oh, yeah. There was outrage. Like, how could you do that? I need to see you with your afro so that I can be strong and wear mine. You’re not going to be the same person and guess what? I’m not. I am so much stronger, confident, and more beautiful because I didn’t have hair to hide behind for a while.
HH: I think people have been shocked at how fast you were able to grow your hair back. How did you do it?
Yaya: Luckily, my job was really understanding after I cut it. They made a wig for my character. So I was just tucking it down under that [wig] and leaving it alone. Leaving it alone and castor oil are what really what did it.
HH: What was the motivation behind that cut?
Yaya: That move was necessary at that time for many reasons: hair health and personal growth, among other things. I did think it was beautiful. But for me, personally, I realized that I needed to grow my hair back. The only reason that I would do it again is if a role required it.