An exploration of black hair through film
Zindzi Rocque Drayton
25 Sep 2016
In 2015, I approached the YouTube channel BBC Raw, with an idea to make a mini-documentary Hair Freedom. Eighteen months earlier, I’d embarked on the “natural hair journey”, but was still afraid to “go natural” and held on desperately to the relaxed ends that dangled off what was now quite a full afro.
For five years I’d gained a sense of pride, beauty and even a reputation for being one of those lucky black girls whose hair grew silky and long from being relaxed. But after years of rocking straight hair, my eyes opened to the fact I was living my life adhering to the beauty standards of a society that didn’t even acknowledge the struggle or appreciate the effort.
With the consequential scabs, burns and breakages that come with battling re-growth, I increasingly felt frustrated and betrayed that I lived in a society that undermined black hairstyles. But by 2013, as the natural hair movement ballooned online, I believed more than ever in the importance of being the change you want to see.
For my film Hair Freedom I interviewed seven young women that had embarked on different journeys to get to a point where they could confidently wear their hair naturally. From one girl being told that she had ‘slave hair’ by her aunt, to another whose curly hair was deemed “unprofessional” by her employers, the film addresses the pressures young naturals can face to straighten their hair.
The film gives a voice for naturals to question why we live in a society in which wearing the hair that grows out of their head is seen as a novelty. But most importantly it aims to celebrate afro hair textures and by hearing naturals describe the freedom they feel by living their own definitions of beautiful hair.
Shortly after making the film, I finally gained to confidence to sculpt my hair into a bouncy afro. For me, and many of the women in the film, “going natural” ultimately wasn’t a physical journey but a mental one. In order to fully embrace my natural hair it ultimately took a complete overhaul of my perception of what defined my beauty and for me that meant learning to love my blackness.