My Interview with Ella Joyce on Her Natural Hair



Ella Joyce (Photo courtesy of www.Kinkphobia.com)

 Actress Ella Joyce has played many roles on the big and small screen. Joyce's resume includes television shows like "Roc" and "My Wife and Kids." She has also played in movies such as Set It Off and the upcoming movie Temptation by Tyler Perry. Joyce's recent role has been on the television show ,"Belle's" on TvOne where I noticed her beautiful natural hair. Recently, I was blessed with the opportunity to speak with Ella about her book Kink Phobia: Journey Through A Black Woman's Hair and her natural hair...

1BN: When did you decide to go natural? 
EJ: You know, it’s so funny because earlier this morning they had on an old episode of “My Wife And Kids” where I played ‘Jasmine’. I did about 6 or 7 episodes of that. I saw the very first one earlier this morning. I just mentioned to my husband... while we were sitting up looking at it when I said, “Baby, that’s when I started going natural with my hair! Remember?” He said, “Yes, I remember.” So, if you look at me on “My Wife and Kids”… The hairstyle that I was beginning to wear… I had cut the perm completely out of my head. I did the whole thing. I got rid of it.

1BN:  Wow! So, you did a Big Chop? 
EJ: No, I started out with the braids because I didn’t want to go to a short haircut. So, I started with the braid extensions and just sort of let the straight ends grow out without having to chop the hair off, because I didn’t want to lose the length.

1BN: Ok! So, you transitioned. 
EJ: I transitioned. Yeah. It really started (way back) when you see me on “My Wife and Kids”. I did a movie called Set It Off. My hair was sort of in between the perm and the natural, then. I put a nice little strawberry blonde in it to sort of lighten it a bit. My hair has natural highlights in it anyway. I’ve got like natural 2-3 different tones of hair. So, all I did was kind of highlight it a bit. But, I wore it in a short bob. From that point on, I had made up my mind that I wasn’t going back to any chemicals. So being an actress, I have to stay versatile. I love my hair now because if I need to press it, I can press it. If I want to go back to (just kinky) natural, I can do that. And I can do it in a day’s notice lol. I don’t have to wait for it to grow out to change my hair style.

You know, we are the most versatile women in terms of all of the wonderful things we can do with our hair. We lock ourselves into one style. What I call it, is the uniform style that black women have to wear to be accepted in a European centric world. We have to wear long straight hair and weaves at some point. Not just because you want to, because there’s nothing wrong with wearing your hair that way if you want to. But we get it in our minds that we can’t even be seen with our natural hair. 

Ella Joyce in the movie Set It Off  (Photo courtesy of IMDB.com)



1BN: So when you decided to go natural (being an actress, being in Hollywood), what response did you get for auditions?
EJ: You know, it’s kind of all over the place, really. There are times where you get nothing but compliments. There are times that you get remarks from people like, “Why are you doing that?” Interestingly enough, a lot of times in the conservative world you get a lot more negative comments from black people than you do from white folks. When you go natural, black people just kind of lose their mind with it lol! When I shared my book with them, what happens is they started seeing all of this hair I got and it’s like, “You mean my hair would do that?” It would if you give it a chance! What I did in my book was sort of concentrate on helping sisters and the brothers too, because I’ve had a lot of black men buy my book. 
 
What I tried to do in the book was focus (first of all) on our attitudes about our hair because you can’t change the style and you can’t be proud of what you’re doing until  you begin to think differently. And, we have to think differently against our society and culture that’s constantly putting us down… making us feel like something is wrong with our hair when it’s not straight.

Ella on why she loves natural hair and natural hair in the work place….
My thing is, we can go back and forth with it [our hair]. If you love your hair, you can press it when you want. Nothing looks more beautiful than pressed natural black hair. When it has been blow dried out and maybe flat ironed and you put your conditioners on it. It looks beautiful. Nobody else’s hair looks like that…a healthy head of hair. Not hair that’s been permed! I’m talking about your natural black hair when it has been pressed out. It looks beautiful! Then when you want to go back to wearing it natural [textured]. You can wear it kinky, coily, curly, wavy. We have natural curl, and kink, and coil in our hair. If we stop trying to eradicate it and destroy it, then we would find we got some hair that we can do some of anything with. One day I could look like Beyonce; the next day I could look like Angela Davis lol. And we look good like that! They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But, we have spent our entire existence (in this country) trying to look like white women. When we find out we start trying to look like ourselves, they be trying to keep up with us. Back in the day when we were wearing the braids they came out, and broke out with Bo Derek and called her a "10" when sisters were getting fired from their jobs from wearing braids to work. 


We were being fired from our jobs. You could not wear braids in any kind of so called “conservative” job. So, if you were an airline stewardess in first class, you could not wear braids. You could not wear natural black hair. When you were working in a front office in most corporate places, you could not do that. If you were a lawyer… if you were a judge… whatever! You could not wear your hair natural. You could not wear braids. If you showed up with any of those, you got fired. I mean black woman are still getting fired from their jobs for wearing their hair natural. 

Ella's hair styled in a Grecian Braid (Photo courtesy of Ella Joyce's Facebook page)

1BN: Thank you for explaining. I was going to ask you about that...
EJ: You know that’s deep. That is real deep. Now being an actress,  I don’t wear my hair one way. My hair changes according to what role I play in being the thing. Well, that’s just part of the joy of being an actress is that we change ourselves up. I do more than most because, I’m sort of like a change chameleon. People look at my career over the years, and (a lot of times) they see me in things when they didn’t even realize it was me lol. People don’t know that’s me on Set It Off. All the different things I’ve done...they don’t realize.


1BN:  What’s your current hair regimen?
EJ:Today I have it natural. It’s sort of like it is on "Belle's". It’s gotten even thicker and longer. I’m wearing it natural right now. I’ve got a movie coming out Tyler Perry’s Tepmptation is coming out March 29th. I  play the lead actress,  Jurnee Smollett's mother. I play her mother in the film.  It was important to me, (as an actress) to look like her as opposed to me looking however I wanted to look. It’s about  doing  the character. So (in that) I pressed my hair… darkened it a little bit and made it look more like Jurnee Smollett so that I could do that movie.  I just wrapped up a movie for Nina Simone. I wore my hair natural and nappy because they were dealing with the passage of time. Nina was our queen with that beautiful sculptured African look. Since I was in the movie, I’m playing the mother. I’m always playing somebody’s mama lol … not her mother, but the guy she [Nina] ends up going with as a manager and the lover. I played his mother, so I had my hair natural. When I’m getting ready to do another one [ movie], I don’t know. I might just decide to go high blonde and go straight just for the character. 

Ella with short bob-like cut. (Photo courtesy of www.kinkphobia.com)


1BN: Everyday, in terms of hair care… do you spritz  your hair, apply conditioner etc?  
EJ: The thing that I try to make people clear with (especially after they read my book) I’m going to be coming out with a part 2 of KinkPhobia. It’s going to be like, “Now you know how to grow all this hair.  How do you take care of it?” You done figured out how to grow it out! You know that was half the battle right there. Now you got to figure out how to style it... what to do with it. What I try to emphasize is that there is a major difference between the products and the hair care for your hair when you decide to wear it pressed and straight. This is just for natural hair. When you decide to wear it pressed and straight and when you decided to wear it coily or all the way bushy kink.  

There’s different products that you use and there is a different way of styling it. The way that you style natural hair… The secret to it is really is with your hands. It really is. This is how you maintain it [natural hair]. The only time you comb it is when it’s in a softened state meaning you’re getting ready to shampoo it, so you put your conditioner on it to relax all the tight kinks that’s in there.  I always wash it in sections. We have to stop thinking of dealing with our hair as if it was straight European hair. For European hair (when you’ve got it in a perm) you can go right in the shower and it acts like straight hair does. When it’s NOT straight and you don’t have it processed to be straight, you have to deal with it differently. 

So, I do it in sections. Each section I wash and condition separately and use a wide tooth comb like a pick. You comb it through. That’s the only time I concentrate on combing my hair out. When I’m getting ready to wash it, getting ready to shampoo... I always condition it before I shampoo it. That is very specific in my book that our hair is dry, naturally dry. It’s a beautiful analogy I got from somebody many, many, many years ago and I just love it... Our hair (if you look at the way it grows) grows out towards the sun. It doesn’t grow down your back. It grows OUT and it faces up towards the sun, because we’re sun people.  Our hair grows close and to the creator. We have a lot of sensitivity in our hair. When you began to think of our hair like that( in its glorious state), then you realize there is a different way in which you groom it. You don’t groom it the same way you do European hair. 

 So, I put it in sections. Because it grows out, the ends get dry because it doesn’t stay close to the scalp. What you have to do is concentrate on keeping your ends moisturized with a pomade… if you want to put oil on it…if you want to put a softening conditioner that has water in it. When you wear your hair natural, water is no longer your enemy. You can always put a water-based something [in your hair] to soften it . There are plenty of products! I mention some in my book…There’s this one product called Kinky-Curly and it’s a custard. It’s made by this sister. Believe it or not, out of all of the crazy places that you would think you got to go look for this custard, they sell it at Target honey! They sell it at about $20 bucks a jar. But, the reason why I like it is because it doesn’t have chemicals in it. So, it does not change (permanently) the texture of your hair. When you put that custard in it while it’s [your hair] is wet, it dries that way. Then, from that point you can do whatever you want to do to style your hair in terms of wearing it natural. You can follow it up (once it’s )with pomade that has oil in it. Whatever you’re doing, remember you’re styling it with your hands. That’s what I always have to teach my hairdressers whenever I’m on a film set.
Ella Joyce, when she was on the television show "Roc" (Photo courtesy of msthingproductions.com)
 Ella on hairdressers, loving, and combing our natural hair....  
My last hairdresser… I just love her to death, the one that I had on "Belle’s". She has her own shop and she was one of the hairdressers that came out and admitted that so many of them don’t know how to deal with natural hair. Instead of talking everybody into getting a perm, that’s what they want to do to you. “Ohhh, you got so much hair! Let’s put this perm on it!” Why do you have to "fix my hair" with a perm? My hair don’t need fixing. So, what you need to do is figure out how to service our hair, because that’s what a hairdresser is supposed to do. Service me in how I want to wear my hair, and then service me in fixing it the best way possible where you’re not destroying my hair. 

When I sit down inside somebody’s chair and the first thing they do (even if I’m wearing it straight) is start snatching that comb through my hair and I start seeing hair in the comb! I get up; I’m gone! You can’t deal with my hair no more. That’s what I tell everyone in my book. Stop snatching that comb through your hair!  Treat your hair like you love it! If you take the time to untangle it… if you want to wear the braids and don’t want to go into locs. (I love locs . I just chose not to wear them.) But if I was a billionaire and didn’t work in movies no more, I probably would wear locs. But since I have to go back and forth [in roles in acting]… I tell them... when you comb your hair you can get to the point where you actually put that comb through your hair and no hair comes out in your comb. None. That means that your hair is healthy. That means it’s not breaking off. That means you’re giving attention to the ends. You’re paying close attention that. Always making sure that you’re putting a moisturizer on it.

Then there’s so many styles you can do. You can press it out, put a flatiron on it, curl it, and put it on the sponge rollers. Girl, you get them fluffy pretty curls that just look gorgeous. Or you can wear it wet. In the summertime, I love it when it’s wet and I put that custard in it. You can tighten it all on top of your head, pin it up, and it looks like a nice sculptured cone on top. Let that dry in the hot sun and let it bake. Once it’s baked, the next day you let all them beautiful ringlets of curls down.
All of us have them, but we think we have to go and get a Jheri Curl. We got to go get some chemicals to get those curls like that. No, ladies! Those are natural curls that you have. You got white women getting perms to try to put curls in their head. All we’re doing is trying to take them out. We’re trying to take all these beautiful coils out of our heads.

First of all, my husband just loves my natural hair. He just loves it girl! He likes it any way I wear it. If I wear it straight and fluffy, he likes that. But, he especially likes it when it’s natural [kinky]. He likes to grab it. He likes the way the bed feels at the scalp. Stick your fingers all in there and feel all that beautiful springiness. See, that’s what we have to learn to love again. That’s what I try to get people to do, by reading my book.  My book deals with all of falling in love with your hair. So that you will come up with new styles that (maybe) my book will inspire you to think of things that I haven’t thought of.
Ella Joyce & Elise Neal on the set of "Belle's" (Photo courtesy of TvOne.com)
 1BN: In terms of onset with Belle’s… do you style your own hair or did they hire a stylist? 
EJ:It just depends. It depends on how I’m wearing it. How I fit into the cast. If I’m a day player and I’m just there for the day, I may come in with it (pretty much) pre-styled already. All they have to do is maintain it. I’ll come in with the products that I want them to use and sort of give them a little talk as to how to maintain my hair. So, they’ll maintain it. Occasionally, they’ll have to style it. It just depends. Like, in the Tyler Perry movie[Temptation] there was a passage of time when the daughter was a little girl, and then she becomes a grown woman. So, the hair had to go through some different changes. I had to let them sort of come up with a few styles that would fit (within) what I had already designed for her. As a black actress and especially black actresses that have a lot of natural hair, I try to suggest, when they ask me because I do coaching as well, mentoring to some of the younger actresses.  I just try to tell them that this business that we’re in( a lot of times) you’re going to show up on the set and they’re not going to have black hair people [stylists]. Sometimes, even if they do have black hair people, they may be somebody who only knows how to do weaves and perms. They don’t even know what to do with natural hair. So, you have to be vigilante and you just have to think about what you need to do to be prepared when you go in there [on set]. So, that’s just something I do. You know, I try to think it out. I try to think about what the style is going to be. I have one hair stylist that I try to take with me. That’s always wonderful when she can travel with me.


A lot of times it just depends on how I’m wearing my hair.  Even if I wear It straight, I’m still particular about how the person combs my hair.  Because, if  I’ve taken the time to press it out, you may have to bump it a few times which I don’t mind. As long as they know what they’re doing and what products to put on there which, most of the hair dressers do.  But I want to make sure they’re not snatching that comb through my hair… because when natural hair has been pressed, you will get a few more little comb tangles when you comb through it, than you do when you comb through when you wear it in a perm. 


When you get to those little tangles, I always tell the girls to just take the time to rub the little tangles between your two fingers and it will come right out. If you push that comb through your hair, what’s going to happen? That hair is going to snag out and it’s going to be in your comb. That is the reason why so many black people think they have no hair that grows. When you look at the sisters that wear the short styles, they look good on them! We can wear some short hair. But, a lot of times it’s because they feel that their hair won’t grow no longer, or if it grows longer it’s going to be too much trouble to work with. It really isn’t. I get so many compliments with all the hair that I’ve got. I love the summertime now. I go back and forth [between styles].

  If I’m going to go to a party and I’m going to do a lot of dancing, I usually try to wear my hair in a way where it’s not going to change the style. In other words, if you start out with it pressed and you’re going to a hot jamming dance party and you started out with your hair pressed natural, you know it’s not going to end up that way by the end of the night lol! If they put on some James Brown or something, you’re going to sweat that hair out! So, what I’ll do is maybe wear a hair piece to mix it in with the hair, because I have my own techniques and ways of doing that… to mix it in… Maybe wear it up in a French Roll or something so you still look good by the end of the night. Maybe just put on a full piece wig. That way you still got your hair! If there’s a style where I need to wear it in a short cut, they do so many things in the movies now... way more than what they did when I started out, in terms of illusion. A lot of times you don’t have to do all of that to your hair. As a matter of fact, it’s better for them to come up with a style for the illusion to wear. That way they can do what they have to do to you. They can do whatever they need to do to your hair. It don’t even have to be on your head lol. Then you still got a head full of hair when it’s over with. That’s pretty much how I try to roll with that. 




Ella Joyce's beautiful swoop bang (photo courtesy of www.ellajoye.com)



Ella on testing new hair care products, her favorite product, and styling her hair...
I don’t like putting that stuff in there. Any of these products that they [hair care companies] come out with, they’re trying to tell you to use it because It doesn’t have any chemicals in it. I tell everybody to be very careful about that, because (now-a-days) they just lie to you. They just lie. Anything that changes the texture of your hair has a chemical in it… no matter what they tell you! It’s a lie! 

Whenever you try a new product, only do it on a little piece (maybe in the back somewhere) so that if you lose that hair, it won't show. You can keep an eye on it, and watch it and see what it does. Then you'll know, "Ok, what they sold me is not right." That's what I even did with the custard by Kinky-Curly, because I don't believe nothing nobody can tell me any more. I read and I know it was a sister, number one... I know that when I'm looking at it [ the product], it doesn't change the texture of your hair. So, it couldn't have hair altering chemicals in it. But, I did it on a section. I tried it and tried it. I noticed it washes right out. My hair goes right back to its natural kinky state. I love that product because it does wash out.   


Anything that you put in permanent is going to change the structure of your hair. It's going to dry it out, break it off. You know you're having problems with your hair when (all of a sudden) you just can't style it. It's wiry. Then you've got those two different textures... You have to begin to take care of that hair because that straightened texture is going to eventually break off. But, if you don't want it all to break off at once or, you don't want to cut it then you have to take care of that hair until your natural hair comes out. Then you can clip those little bitty straight ends off. Once you've got all of your natural hair back and the perm is gone, you'll find that your hair won't come out in the comb. They'll be so many different styles you'll think of doing with your hair. 


I mean, white girls have to tease their hair to get it to sit up in the back. We don’t have to do that. It’s a total different way of dealing with your hair.  Say for instance, I’m going to wear it straight this week. Say I’m going someplace or I’m going to an audition or whatever and I want a different look for this one. So, I need to straighten it. What I would do is make sure I condition it.  Because when you go from natural to straight or, straight to natural (with natural hair), you’re stressing the hair out. So. you always want to make sure that you’re conditioning your hair. So, I tell them all the time… condition, condition, condition. You cannot over condition natural hair. I put a conditioner in it. Then I shampoo it . I’ve got it broken down into sections. I’ve got so much hair now, that I only have to do 2 sections. But when it was medium length, sometimes I did 4 sections. When it was shorter, I did 8 sections. The thing is you always break the hair down so that you’re in control of the hair. You never want that kinky mass of hair to get away from you and to lose control of it.  You comb it down and what I would do is blow dry it in sections. Once I’m done and I decide that I’m going to wear It straight I blow dry the sections out and braid those sections back up. Now, I’ve got my other products that I use…the serums for the shiny hair. The oil pomades or the sprays that you put on there…. The blow drying heat protection… You put all of that on your hair. Now, you do the flat iron and you flat iron it in little bitty sections.  Now you done did that section. You can pin that up and go to the next section.

 Once you’re done flat ironing it, now you’ve got a head full of straight hair. Now you can do what you want to do with it. You can curl it from there if you want to or, you can just wear it straight or, you could sculpt it up and wear it in a French Roll. How ever you normally wear straight hair, you can do that now. But you’ve taken care of your hair. You didn’t just go from one style to the next, thinking, “Ok.” The thing is when you wear your hair natural, leave the comb alone. The comb stays at home. You don’t need the comb. The only thing you may need to do is (depending on how you want to wear it)… If you notice what I do on Belle’s a lot of times is I brush it around my crown and lay that flat. You’re not going to brush the whole hair; it’s too thick. So, what I do is lay that flat on the side and I might just brush it right against my scalp. But, I don’t brush it all the way through the ends of the hair. Because, if you brush it through the ends of the hair, what’s going to happen? Your hair is going to end up in the brush. We’re trying to keep the hair on our head, not on the brush or the comb… and the blow dryer lol. So, that’s what you do. I puff up that little top section, sometimes. In Caucasian hair, you would have to tease the hair to get that puff to sit up like that. We don’t have to do that. All you got to do is sit it up there and let it dry.
Ella Joyce (photo courtesy of www.ellajoyce.com)
1BN: What’s your favorite style?
EJ: You know what? It’s kind of hard to say because now that I’ve been wearing my hair natural, I’ve got a lot of favorite hair styles. I love the summertime after I shampoo it... I can just kind of push it back and put that custard in it. Then, just let it dry in the sun. Then, from there on I’m just styling it everyday with my hands.  I love that style in the summer because that’s easy, girl. You can get up and you still look good lol! You can go outside and you look good! I like that style! Of course the pressing comb is always a little more work. But, whenever I go back to it, it’s like a new look. Then, I get tired of it real quick.  So, if I wear a press and curl or just a press style I give myself about two weeks (maybe) and then I’m done with it.  I’m going to go back to my natural [kinky] hair. I love my natural hair! Girl, I used to think that I had bad hair, just like all of us. We thought we had this awful hair. “Why God give my sister all that pretty hair down her back, and mine just nappy, nappy, nappy?"Then I found out (one day) that the nappy stuff is really the good stuff. We just don’t know what to do with it. 


Ella Joyce showcasing her lovely curls (Photo courtesy of Ella Joyce's Facebook page)
There you have it ladies and gentlemen! Ella encourages all of her fans to friend her on Facebook. You can also send her letters through her management by visiting http://www.ellajoyce.com/.

Don't forget to check Ella out in Tyler Perry's film Temptation  on March 29th!

You can visit www.kinkphobia.com to purchase her book  Kink Phobia: Journey Through a Black Woman's Hair