How Whoopi Goldberg Reacted to Hollywood’s Issues With Her Hair

If you look up the top movie stars of the 1980s, you won’t find anyone who looks like Whoopi Goldberg in the top 20. Actors like Harrison Ford, Robert DeNiro, and Jack Nicholson enjoyed the most critical claim and box-office success that decade.

Among black actors, Eddie Murphy was clearly the most successful. But you don’t find any black women near the top of the list. So when Whoopi got her big break with The Color Purple (1985), Hollywood executives didn’t have much of a model to follow.

As she noted in a New York Times Magazine interview, studio heads didn’t quite know what to do with her — and that went double for her hair. In some cases, executives would wonder aloud how they might deal with her hair in an upcoming film.

That rubbed Whoopi just the about the way you’d expect, but her feelings changed over the years.

Whoopi said the hair conversations would piss her off.

(L-R) Marlo Thomas, Whoopi Goldberg, & Cybill Shepherd march in a pro-choice demonstration. | Robert Sherbow/The LIFE Images Collection via Getty Images

In the July 8 interview, Whoopi was asked if anyone in Hollywood “gave her a hard time about her hair” after she’d made a name for herself. She recalled some particularly interesting conversations she had with studio executives on the subject.

“Suddenly they would say, ‘Well, what are we going to do with this?'” Whoopi recalled being taken aback by it. “It was like, ‘Are you talking about my hair?'” While her response would basically end the conversation, she resented it.

Whoopi as Guinan in 1987 | CBS Entertainment

“At first it really pissed me off,” Whoopi told the Times Magazine. However, after thinking about it more, she realized it was a matter of culture. They hadn’t seen someone like Whoopi up for a starring role in their films before.

“They were executives who didn’t know any people like me, except ones that worked for them,” she said. If you check out the hairdo Whoopi sports in her first major roles, you see a variety of approaches.

Whoopi’s always accepted Hollywood for what it is.

Whoopi Goldberg and Bea Arthur | Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

As she looks back on her career, you hear Whoopi accepting Hollywood for what it is: above all, a business. She said she never had a problem with Steven Spielberg directing The Color Purple because she wanted to see it made. (It didn’t matter to her who made it.)

Whoopi also seemed open to whatever the hair department came up. In her first vehicle (1986’s Jumpin’ Jack Flash), she sports her trademark short dreadlocks. We see the same in Burglar (1987). By Fatal Beauty (also ’87), Whoopi runs with a variety of wigs in addition to her real hair.

For her Oscar-winning role in Ghost (1990), Whoopi donned a wig. In 1991’s Soapdish, Whoopi was back to her natural hair.

As you can tell by her decade-plus run at The View, Whoopi puts working on a gig high up on her list of priorities. “Better to play the maid than be the maid,” she’s said, quoting the great Hattie McDaniel. She wasn’t going to let hair get in her way.

Also seeThe Controversy That Put Whoopi Goldberg’s Career on Hold