News

    Film Encourages Africans and African Americans to Cultivate Natural Hair 

    Multimedia

    Audio

    The city of Austin in the United States has hosted an international film festival at which several works with Africa-related themes were shown. One that received a lot of attention was a documentary produced by an African-American filmmaker, Michelle Farris-Lewis. She uses her film to celebrate people of African descent who’ve refused to straighten their hair in favor of “going natural.”  In the second of a five-part series focusing on Africa-related films that were shown at the Austin festival, VOA’s Darren Taylor reports on Farris-Lewis’s film, entitled “New Growth.”

    Michelle Farris-Lewis is a native of South Park, an inner city area of Houston, Texas, where she filmed the documentary that received an enthusiastic round of applause from the audience in Austin.

    But Farris-Lewis says she filmed “New Growth” with Africans in mind as well.

    “So many Africans think the way that we African-Americans do: That they must have nice, straight hair in order to be accepted, in order to get good jobs,” she explains. 

    “The film is actually comprised of what I call hair stories, of women who have taken this journey from relaxed (straight) hair to natural hair – that’s one part of the film. And then the other is the opinions of other people, like men – I make sure I go to barbershops and I get their opinions and the way they feel about hair, because a lot of the things that we do to our hair as women has to do with the men in our lives.”

    In one of the most striking scenes in the film, shot in a Houston barbershop packed with men – and testosterone – a young man having his hair cut reflects: “As far as I’ve always been brought up and what we’ve been taught, is that the only good hair is hair you can run your fingers through. If you can’t run your fingers through it, then it ain’t good hair.” 

    “Comments such as this,” says Farris-Lewis, “reveal the social conditioning that black people all over the world have undergone…. There’s a ‘good hair, bad hair’ thing going on in black communities. It’s like if you have the wavy, close to Caucasian, European hair – that it’s good. And as close as it is to African – the kinky – then it’s bad.”  

    During another scene in the film, an elderly man emotionally laments that black people have lost their “respect” by straightening their hair.

    “Some of you all remember that, back in the day, when we were brothers and sisters – soul people – we were wearing it natural! People respected us! The Hispanics respected us, the Asians respected us; the white man respected us! We don’t have that respect left!” he exclaims, to the agreement of the men around him.   

    “New Growth” includes footage of women and men, who, according to a pamphlet promoting the film, are “reveling in their own process – a process that does not involve chemicals or complex salon treatments, but a processing of the mind that allows one the freedom to embrace who they are naturally and to be proud.”

    What happens in America is the same as what happens in Africa, says Farris-Lewis: “Black people putting dangerous, damaging products on their hair to straighten it, to look white, because society makes them feel inferior, makes them feel that their natural hair is dirty. And they’re willing to go through great pain, and spend a lot of money, so that they feel they fit into society by means of their hairstyles.” 

    A “personal and traumatic experience” spurred Farris-Lewis to produce “New Growth.” 

    “I was inspired to do the film because I put a relaxer (chemical) on my daughter’s hair when she was six years old, and it all fell out. As a result, to make her feel comfortable, I ended up cutting all of my relaxed hair off and going natural with her. And it was a journey that took me all the way to here (to the Austin Women’s Film Festival).”

    She says the “dangerous” standards of beauty that are thrust upon people – and especially women – in America, are disseminated through various media – like Hollywood and music videos – and then spread to Africa.

    “African women see these images, and they aspire to copy Americans. They put all sorts of damaging products on their hair. They begin to believe, like we do here, that women can only be beautiful if they have long, shiny, flowing hair.”

    In “New Growth,” Farris-Lewis also interviews African-American women who are refusing to “go natural” and are insisting that they have a right to straighten their hair.

    In a revealing comment in the film, a woman with straight hair provides viewers with some of the psychology and societal standards behind her decision to continually relax her curly hair: “When I do get my hair straightened like this, the first thing that a lot of people say is: Oh, your hair is so pretty…. Instead of every day when I wear it out and bushy and curly, I never get any compliments.” 

    Farris-Lewis repeatedly emphasizes that her film is not intended to criticize those women of African descent who choose to straighten their hair. 

    “The film is just a celebration of women who have decided: I don’t want to do that anymore; I just want to be me and be what God made me. It’s not really to condemn anyone that has chosen to relax their hair, but just to celebrate those who’ve chosen not to,” she says.

    Farris-Lewis also insists that she’s not advocating a “return to the 1970’s, with massive Afro hairdos or that everyone must look like Bob Marley…. Natural doesn’t have to be Afro, huge hair. Natural is just something without chemicals – many black men that you see, they have natural hair; it’s really the women who struggle with the idea of processing their hair, because we’re taught that we have to have this long hair, we have to have this straight, flowing hair. Natural means you have chosen not to chemically process your hair. And black hair in its natural state is not straight.”

    Despite her attempts to “celebrate rather than condemn” with her documentary, Farris-Lewis clearly sees the film and the issues it raises as a struggle. “How many black actresses and black singers and successful black businesspeople do we see out there these days with natural hair?” she asks rhetorically, adding: “Ninety-nine percent of my friends have permed hair, so I’m in no way preaching!”

    Farris-Lewis is working on a number of future projects, and says she’d like to hear specifically from women in Africa about their “hair struggles and how they feel about natural hair, and the pressure they’re under to conform to Western standards of beauty.”

    Email her at Newgrowth_thefilm@yahoo.com. Part of the film can be viewed at www.MySpace.com/New_growth      

           

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Donations Rescue Afghan Parents, Children From Forced Labori
    X
    May 05, 2016 6:44 PM
    A Facebook campaign organized by a VOA radio host raised 150,000 Afghan rupees to rescue a family from forced labor at a brick kiln in Nangarhar province – the result of the father’s unpaid debt. Video by a VOA reporter in Jalalabad went viral this week and triggered the Facebook campaign.
    Video

    Video Donations Rescue Afghan Parents, Children From Forced Labor

    A Facebook campaign organized by a VOA radio host raised 150,000 Afghan rupees to rescue a family from forced labor at a brick kiln in Nangarhar province – the result of the father’s unpaid debt. Video by a VOA reporter in Jalalabad went viral this week and triggered the Facebook campaign.
    Video

    Video Kurdish Troops Recount Firefight Which Killed US Navy SEAL

    A U.S. Navy SEAL killed Tuesday, when Islamic State fighters punched through Kurdish lines in northern Iraq, was part of a quick reaction force sent to extract other U.S. troops trapped by the surprise offensive. VOA's Kawa Omar spoke with Kurdish troops in the town of Telskuf -- the scene of what U.S. officials called a "dynamic firefight."
    Video

    Video British Lawmakers Warn EU Exit Talks Could Last A Decade

    Leaving the European Union would mean difficult negotiations that could take years to complete, according to a bipartisan group of British lawmakers. While the group did not recommend a vote either way, the lawmakers noted trade deals between the EU and non-EU states take between four and nine years on average. Henry Ridgwell reports on the mounting debate over whether Britain should stay or exit the EU as the June vote approaches.
    Video

    Video NASA Astronauts Train for Commercial Space Flights

    Since the last Shuttle flight in 2011, the United States has been relying on Russian rockets to launch fresh crews to the International Space Station. But that may change in the next few years. NASA and several private space companies are developing advanced capsules capable of taking humans into low orbit and beyond. As VOA's George Putic reports, astronauts are already training for commercial spacecraft in flight simulators.
    Video

    Video US Worried Political Chaos in Iraq Will Hurt IS Fight

    The White House is expressing concern about rising political chaos in Iraq and the impact it could have on the fight against the Islamic State. The U.S. says Iraq needs a stable, central government to help push back the group. But some say Baghdad may not have a unified government any time soon. VOA's White House correspondent Mary Alice Salinas reports.
    Video

    Video Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limited

    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.
    Video

    Video Taliban Threats Force Messi Fan to Leave Afghanistan

    A young Afghan boy, who recently received autographed shirts and a football from his soccer hero Lionel Messi, has fled his country due to safety concerns. He and his family are now taking refuge in neighboring Pakistan. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from Islamabad.
    Video

    Video Major Rubbish Burning Experiment Captures Destructive Greenhouse Gases

    The world’s first test to capture environmentally harmful carbon dioxide gases from the fumes of burning rubbish took place recently in Oslo, Norway. The successful experiment at the city's main incinerator plant, showcased a method for capturing most of the carbon dioxide. VOA’s Deborah Block has more.
    Video

    Video EU Visa Block Threatens To Derail EU-Turkey Migrant Deal

    Turkish citizens could soon benefit from visa-free travel to Europe as part of the recent deal between the EU and Ankara to stem the flow of refugees. In return, Turkey has pledged to keep the migrants on Turkish soil and crack down on those who are smuggling them. Brussels is set to publish its latest progress report Wednesday — but as Henry Ridgwell reports from London, many EU lawmakers are threatening to veto the deal over human rights concerns.
    Video

    Video Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Painting Captures President Lincoln Assassination Aftermath

    A newly restored painting captures the moments following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It was recently unveiled at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where America’s 16th president was shot. It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the horror of that fateful night. VOA’s Julie Taboh tells us more about the painting and what it took to restore it to its original condition.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora