The scene is all too familiar to any woman who likes to supplement her strands with a little “extra”: negotiating with your local purveyors of hair over the best quality for hopefully the best price. It’s also the opening of episode 6 of South Side, Comedy Central’s take on the goings-on in one of Chicago’s blackest and best-known enclaves. (And if you haven’t been watching South Side, catch up. It’s hilarious—and, as an actual South Sider, hilariously accurate. Case in point: The episode’s opening scene was filmed at actual South Side beauty mecca Royal Beauty and Wig.)
Chandra Russell, South Side’s female lead, Chicago cop Zenobia Turner, who also penned tonight’s episode, titled “Mongolian Curly,” sat down with The Glow Up for a beauty shop-worthy chat about female insecurities, being a black woman writer-creator in Hollywood, and why edges are overrated.
“You know what I’m tired of? Edges. Got my whole goddamn blood pressure raising trying to keep these lil’ ass hair to lay down,” says Officer Turner in the episode as friend and home stylist Stacy (played by Zuri Salahuddin) gives her a sew-in during her shift (no, really). “Like I need one more motherfucking thing to be self-conscious about,” she gripes.
In conversation, Russell keeps it just as real, especially when it comes to how ever-changing beauty standards affect the ability of women to connect; a theme also explored during episode 6.
“I just feel like there’s so many things—especially in this beauty realm—that you have to worry about as a woman,” she shares. “You know, when [baby hair] came out, I was like, ‘Y’all are playing. Another thing that I have to worry about before I leave this house? I’m exhausted! I am so tired trying to keep up.
“You know what? I think it’s a conspiracy. It’s just a conspiracy to divide women further, and make women with that natural kink—that 4C—just feel worse about themselves. First off, what exactly is ‘baby hair’? You grown as hell, you don’t have baby hair, OK?” she laughs, referring to one of her favorite Instagram memes. “Let’s be real: that’s broken hair.”
And though episode 6 is laugh-out-loud funny (and not all about hair), Russell reveals that the premise was inspired by a painful point of long-held insecurity.
“I actually think this episode was borne out of a moment of frustration surrounding my lack of edges—and just feeling so insecure and lesser than, because I don’t know when edges became such a thing, but they have really taken over. You know, they’ve really become a point of status,” says Russell.
“[Writing the episode] was a bit therapeutic for me, because one of my major insecurities has always been my hair. I always just felt like if I had this thick, luscious long hair, the world would open to me; I would be smarter, and prettier, and everyone would be obsessed with me, and I would just have this greater life—all based on some strands of hair,” she continues. “There was definitely a time when I was obsessed with weaves, and I could not go out of the house without a weave, because that just started to define me. I didn’t feel comfortable being this little black girl with these three strands of hair.”
Russell herself grew up on the South Side; calling herself “a Chicagoan ‘til Chicago ends,” despite now being L.A.-based with her husband, South Side’s co-creator, executive producer and co-star Bashir Salahuddin (also known as best husband ever “Keith Bang” on Netflix’s GLOW), who also plays Officer Turner’s partner, Officer Goodnight on the show. (Fun fact: The couple is currently also collaborating on a new generation).
But while South Side is very much a family affair—including Bashir’s brother, star and co-creator Sultan Salahuddin (Diallo Riddle rounding out the trio of creators) and twin brothers Kareem and Quincy Young—Russell’s role as a writer, creator, producer and star can best be traced back to her role as a co-creator of the cult-hit web series Downtown Girls, inspired by her years in NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts Acting program. Now among a rising tide of black female content creators in Hollywood, Russell spoke frankly about the work that is being done—and how much more there is to do.
“I think the cool thing is that we have so many women who are now working behind the cameras, creating the shows,” she says. “That’s really where your power comes from; when you can take control of that narrative...because if it’s about the men telling the story, they are gonna write about what they think is beautiful, and you are going to have to service their vision—even if you are a writer in that room, sometimes, it’s very hard.
“I mean, it’s great that we’re finally at a time where women are controlling our own narratives—and particularly for black women, and more, women of color as a whole are stepping up, and getting these opportunities, and white men are getting out of the way—which is really what they need to do,” Russell continues. [But] there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done on the executive end. There are not a lot of executives who look like us; I’ve probably pitched in 40 to 50 rooms, and seen two executives of color. It’s a beautiful moment when you see them...but it’s so rare, so you are still at the mercy of people who don’t understand the work that you are putting out; who are constantly questioning...And so, you have to spend so much energy just defending your story and defending this accurate portrayal of blackness to people who are not black and know nothing about it.
“We need more black people—and people of color, period—who are greenlighting,” she concludes. “More women who are greenlighting; who are putting shows on the air.”
And in an industry where black women have long been told only one at a time can to rise to the top, Russell’s intended trajectory can perhaps best be summed up by her South Side character, Officer Turner:
“If the only way for me to get attention is to look like another bitch, then I don’t want it that bad.”
The Glow Up tip: Episode 6 of South Side premieres Wednesday, August 28, on Comedy Central at 10:30 p.m ET.
Updated: Wednesday, 8/28/2019, at 12:48 p.m., ET: An earlier version of this article mistitled the episode as “Weaves, Wigs & Edges.” The actual title is “Mongolian Curly.” But in more exciting news: as this article went to press, Comedy Central announced it has ordered a 10-episode second season of South Side, citing the series’ “universal praise from critics” and 100% Certified Fresh rating from Rotten Tomatoes.
“South Side is a truly unique and special show—one that is first and foremost incredibly funny, but also redefines perceptions of Chicago through storytelling and humor,” said Jonas Larsen and Sarah Babineau, Co-Heads of Original Content for Comedy Central, in a release from the network. “Diallo, Bashir and Michael have created such an incredible comedic world with this show and we can’t wait to see what they have in store for season two.”
As the release also points out, South Side is Comedy Central’s highest-rated new series among African American viewers aged 18 to 49 since the launch of Key & Peele in 2012. The show immediately became the number one new original primetime cable comedy of the year in that demo as well as the number one new cable comedy of 2019 with African American men ages 18 to 49.
“Our mission is to show the world the joy of Chicago,” said South Side executive producers Bashir Salahuddin, Diallo Riddle and Micahel Blieden in a statement. “Comedy Central has been a fantastic creative partner in this effort. They allow all the Chicagoans who make this show possible to create with zero compromises. We are blessed.”
In other words, the Second City—and especially, its South Side—remains a bastion for blackety-black excellence. Keep watching, y’all!
(Updated 3/3/22 with new details)