Malcom-Jamal Warner is recognized by most as “Theo” from the legendary Cosby Show. What many do not know is that he is also an accomplished director, poet, bass player, voice actor, author, activist, speaker, producer and director. He’s been low-key for a while, but has stayed relevant with recent re-occurring roles on Sherri, Dexter and Community. But now he’s back in the spotlight starring in and co-producing a show on BET called REED BETWEEN THE LINES with co-star (and co-producer) Tracee Ellis-Ross.
After an episode that addressed natural hair and self-image, I felt that it was perfect timing for me to reach out and ask him a few questions for Hairscapades. So, without further ado … Mr. Malcolm-Jamal Warner …
Q: Who were some of the people/celebrities that you saw as beautiful growing up, peers and elders (natural, straightened and/or relaxed hair)?
The woman who I thought were beautiful totally ran the gamut. I had a wall full of Ola Ray pictures. We all loved Janet Jackson and Kim Fields. My mother and the majority of her circle of strong, independent Black woman for the most part had either fros, short fros or really close-cropped cuts.
Q: Your mother wears her hair natural now. Has she always? If not, do you remember how you felt when she went through her “big chop?” How did people around you respond to her hair? Did you ever get jokes about your mother having more waves than you?
My mother always had short hair. She did go through a period where she had braids and then enough hair to perm, which was such a huge difference because, ever since I was a baby, she had always worn her hair natural. I think she went through a period where she decided she wanted to try something different just to say that she did it. When she did the big chop after her locs, we all kinda said, “Ahhh, there’s the Pam Warner we know.” Lol. But it has been cool to see her take her journey with her hair.
Q: Did you grow up around other women that had relaxers or natural hair styles? How did that influence your idea of beauty?
Because I grew up around those strong, independent Black woman with natural hair styles, I think that may have had a significant impact on my attraction to women with natural hair. There’s a certain confidence that a woman has to have to rock natural hair, especially a short do. And, given the prevalence of perms, extensions and weaves, that confidence is often pretty sexy.
Q: You recently aired an episode of your new show, Reed Between the Lines, where you touched on the dynamics and “politics” of women with natural hair. Can you talk about how that came about and why you felt it was a worthy topic for an entire episode?
It was a storyline the writers came to us with already. Everyone felt that it was an important topic – none of us had seen it handled like this in a sitcom before. Tracee especially gravitated toward it, because it was something she could relate to given that her hair may even have a bigger fan-base than she does! It was also important to us to handle it in a way that, though the topic is specific to the Black family dynamic, it could still be told within the universal message of letting young girls (and all people for that matter) know that changing yourself just so someone would like you is never a good idea.
Q: Your co-host and co-producer of the show is an ICON in the natural hair care world. Does her hair always look great? Do you have any idea what she uses on her hair?
I haven’t the slightest clue! Lol!
Q: You used to have locs. For how long? What was the inspiration for them and what prompted you to cut them?
It’s crazy, because during my early 20s, my best friend and I worshipped Das-EFX. We took the time to decipher practically every verse from that first CD, which was no easy feat. But, as much as we loved them, whenever we asked ourselves if we’d ever grow locs, we were both like, “No.” Some years later, my mother started growing locs. And, as you know, when locking, you have many a “not good” hair day. I used to see her rock those days with a little extra pep in her step and her head held a little higher because, for her, it wasn’t about how her locs looked; it was about how they made her feel. I admired that self-assurance she carried, no matter what anyone else thought (Not even me – I used to tease her when she was twisting, only because I didn’t think she’d commit to it. But to my surprise she did.). The year I did my first 10 day fast, I spent a lot of time by myself on a mini-spiritual journey. It was the end of the first season of “Malcolm & Eddie” and, once I knew we were picked up for a second season, and therefore had job security, I decided to loc. I said I would give myself 10 years. Once the show ended, my manager, agent, and publicist were all suggesting I cut my locs, because they felt that they were getting in the way of my getting jobs. My feeling was that I didn’t grow my locs for anyone else and I wasn’t going to cut them for anyone else. I knew people who cut them before they were ready and regretted it. I did a show with Goapele shortly after she cut hers. And, in her post-loc glow, she told me to only cut them when I was absolutely ready. I knew I wanted to glow like her, so I waited until I was absolutely, beyond a shadow of a doubt ready. I had done enough acting work to document my locs, had gotten out of the journey what I needed and was ready to move on. Turns out, it was exactly 10 and a half years.
Q: Can you talk about the power dynamics and the community’s response to men with locked hair? (Don’t front and act like I was the only one getting pulled over on the highway and asked if I had any weed when I was walking down the block!)
Generally, I had a positive response to my locs. Of course, there were women who would say, “Why’d you do that? You look better without dreads.” But even now, since I cut them, there are women who say they think I looked better with them, thus proving, you can’t please everybody. Lol! I’ve been told by many people that, because of my public “mainstream” image, my wearing locs eased the threat a bit and helped make them more “acceptable.” I think as long as people refer to them as “dreadlocks,” there will always be a level of intimidation and prejudice because, as we know, there is nothing dreadful about wearing locs.
Q: Have you ever kept up with the hair regimen of your lady? Like, do you keep up with her? Do you know how often she washes her hair? Conditions? Colors? Deep conditions? Etc.?
No, actually. I just know I like it.
Q: Have you ever been one to know what your lady uses on her hair? If you were walking down the beauty aisle, would you know what to pick up for her?
There’s a gang of stuff in her bathroom cabinets, but I don’t know which stuff she uses regularly.
Q: Her hair is ALWAYS fly. Does she allow you to play in her hair or does she keep it wrapped up in scarves and bonnets?
She only wraps it when she goes to sleep.
Q: Have you ever dated a sister that HAS to wear “headgear” to bed? What kind? How do/would you deal with that? What’s your preference … bonnet, scarf, do-rag, hat!?!
The funny thing is, when I had to work with that the most, we both had locs. So, she’d wear a bonnet and I’d rock the do-rag to bed. Some nights, it made for some interesting night-time fun!
Q: Have you ever dealt with someone who had braids/extensions? How do you feel about the “purchased” hair?
I’ve never really been big on extensions and weaves and the sort. I get why some women prefer them or feel they may need them. I also know that, in some cases, it’s just easier to rock the purchased hair. I don’t discriminate. But personally, I want to run my fingers through my woman’s hair and play with it without concern for pulling something out.
Q: Is there anything that you want to share about hair, hair politics, black men caring for daughters with natural hair (Hint, hint! Haha!)?
A fly hairstyle with a whack attitude is a waste, but a pretty a@#$ smile trumps a bad hair day every time.
Q: You are a good-looking, stable, intelligent, socially conscious, spiritually and community grounded brother … why don’t you have any kids and/or why aren’t you married (Haha!!)?
Hahahaha. Don’t count me out just yet, brother …