Brazil has a long way to go to catch up to the U.S. in terms of natural hair. I can’t even find black hair care products in Rio de Janeiro where I live. But there is a vibrant natural hair movement here and its development is coinciding with a new movement of Afro-Brazilian women making short films about hair, beauty and sexuality.
Last weekend, I checked out a new Brazilian short film about natural hair and Afro-Brazilian beauty—“Kbela." It’s is a 20-minute experimental film that takes people through the emotions that Afro-Brazilian women experience when they start to embrace their natural beauty. A review of the film (which some are hailing as "a milestone in Brazilian cinema"), is forthcoming, but in order to properly review it, I tried to watch every film I could find about hair and black women. Below I’ve included a brief synopsis and a review the ones I found.
– "My Nappy Roots" (U.S., ?, Regina Kimbell)
Synopsis: "My Nappy Roots" explores the politics, culture and history of African American hair. Is there such a thing as "Good and Bad" hair?
My Take: It seems that everyone has heard of this movie, but very few people have seen it. Chris Rock released “Good Hair” in 2009, five years after this documentary was completed and two years after the producer previewed it to him. There were so many similarities between Chris Rock’s movie and this film that the director even sued him, and lost. It does seem strange to me now that a comedian would make a film about black women’s hair. I couldn’t get a full copy of the movie anywhere, but the trailer looked good and was very sensitive to the issues women have with hair.
– “In Our Heads about Hair “(U.S., 2012, Hemamset Angaza)
The 77-minute film can’t be embedded; watch it here: http://www.cultureunplugged.com/documentary/watch-online/play/52026/In-Our-Heads-About-Our-Hair
Synopsis & Review: “In Our Heads about Hair” is a straightforward talking heads documentary that shows how black women embrace—or don’t embrace–natural hair. Like any novice documentary, it suffers from some newbie technical issues–sound, lack of b-roll, poor image composition. But once I look past these issues, the documentary is good because of the in-depth interviews with everyone—young, old, relaxed, natural, bougie, everyone. But it doesn’t just include African-American women, the director also interviews African, Brazilian and even Rasta women. I was surprised to find an interview with an Afro-Brazilian woman, Fabiana Lopes, in which she defined what "natural hair” means to her. For her, natural hair means not putting anything in your hair and just letting it grow naturally. For black American women, “natural hair” means not chemically treating the hair, but still using a ton of products to maintain it.
– “Kickin’ it with the Kinks” (Great Britain, 2012, Mundia Situmbeko)
Synopsis: When a friend asked blogger Mundia Situmbeko why she never wore her hair in its natural state, Mundia realised she didn’t know how to respond. KICKIN’ IT WITH THE KINKS follows Mundia’s exploration of the history and established norms of afro-textured hair.
Review: From the looks of it, the movie was filmed in 2011/2012. So black women in Great Britain were just beginning to embrace natural hair, much like black American women in the mid to late 2000s. This documentary is similar to “Good Hair,” in that the narrator, Mundia Situmbeko, guides the film along with her voice and experiences. As should be expected, she begins the film wearing a disastrous-looking weave and by the end, she’s embracing her natural kinky hair, twisting it every night. The narrator, who appears to still be in college, interviews her classmates on why they permed or natural hair. Others never allowed their natural to see light, preferring to switch between weaves and braids. Even though the documentary relied too heavily on interviews with women about their hair experiences, it was good enough that I watched the entire film at 3am.
– “You Can Touch My Hair “(U.S., 2013, Antonia Opiah, 23 mins)
Synopsis: During the summer of 2013, four women stood in New York City’s Union Square and allowed people to touch their hair. As the final extension of that bold public art exhibit held in New York City this summer, You Can Touch My Hair, a Short Film takes a glimpse into this fascination and how black women, who are often its subjects, feel about it.
My Take: I loved the public art exhibition but I’m not sure if it needed a two-part documentary of more than 20 minutes. The documentary recaps the exhibit and includes some interviews. A five-minute piece would have been enough. I’m glad to see the film was sponsored by Pantene but this also shows the commercialization of black women “reflecting” on their hair experiences.
– “My White Baby/Me Broni Ba” (Ghana, 2009, Akosua Adoma Owusu,16 min)
Synopsis: Me Broni Ba is a lyrical portrait of hair salons in Kumasi, Ghana. The tangled legacy of European colonialism in Africa is evoked through images of women practicing hair braiding on discarded white baby dolls from the West. The film unfolds through a series of vignettes, set against a child’s story of migrating from Ghana to the United States. The film uncovers the meaning behind the Akan term of endearment, me broni ba, which means “my white baby.”
My Take: I could only find a 1.5 min trailer online that shows Ghanaian women at a hair-braiding salon. From the synopsis it sounds like African women suffer from the same hair issues as black American and Brazilian women. This online article includes some good background and a links to the trailer. http://africanwomenincinema.blogspot.com.br/2010/11/akosua-adoma-owusus-triple.html
– “Good Hair” (U.S., 2009, Jeff Stilson, 96 min)
Synopsis: Chris Rock explores the wonders of African-American hairstyles.
My Take: I saw the movie soon after it debuted in 2009. At the time, I found the film entertaining and well-made. Now that I’m seeing other films made by black women (and men) who embrace the subject with more nuance and sensitivity, I regret that I enjoyed the film. Chris Rock says that he made the film because his daughter was teased at school. But should a film about black women’s hair been made by a comedian who does not personally have to deal with those issues?