March 4, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

How natural hair introduced ‘Cuties’ filmmaker to herself

It is the day when she is supposed to be the most beautiful girl on the planet.

She is wearing black pants, a red T-shirt and black shoes with low heels.

She is shining. Walking in the halls of her school, with her shoulders straight, so confident.

Everybody is looking at her, impressed by her poise and by the energy she radiates.

She is “feeling herself.”

It was how I imagined my main character, Amy, in “Cuties,” in that scene after her long transformation caused by her family’s upheaval. That day she feels on top of the world. Trying to be seen and loved. She is walking as light as a feather, free.

Nevertheless, when I asked my wonderful 12-year-old actress, Fathia Youssouf, to wear her hair in a beautiful, big Afro … she cries: “That is exactly how I am when I wake up in the morning; I’m a mess. That can’t be beautiful.”

All of my team was actively prepping the set for the shoot. Lights, design, costumes, extras…. Everybody was in a rush.

And here I was, in front of my actress. How to tell this young Black girl how much I do understand her. How to say that it is probably because she isn’t used to seeing her hair as beautiful.

Never, nowhere.

Nobody has told her that this kinky hair has value.

Fathia Youssouf in a scene from “Cuties.” Credit: Netflix

(Netflix)

On television, on movie screens, in magazines, a beautiful woman is a woman with long, straight hair.

Oh, yes, my girl, I understand you so much. I imagine how many people put their hands in your hair, touching, pressing it without asking, or teasing you about it.

Oh, my darling, I believe you, your hair means so much for you. Believe me, it means so much for all of us.

I have to take that precious time because you need to understand how much the character has to have her Afro hair in that scene where she should be the most beautiful.

As a Black female director, I have to create those images. To say to the world that when my character is at her most beautiful, she wears her hair in a big Afro.

I could straighten your hair; I could also put you in a wig. But I need to make those images. I feel like I am on a mission, right here, right now, in this role.

I want other girls like you to watch the film and feel that they are beautiful. I want them to not be ashamed of their hair anymore.

This scene is about loving yourself.

The clock is ticking. The set is ready, everybody is waiting for us. And there are still tears on her beautiful, small face.

On the day of that shoot, Beyoncé saved me.

I talked to my young actress about Beyoncé and the Super Bowl, when she and her dancers all performed with their gigantic Afros! And it was so strong and gorgeous. It was so powerful and wonderful! They were so free.

Freedom was in their hair!

And she smiles, at last.

Fathia arrived on the set with her Afro hair.

Action! Cut! Moving on ….

And I am so happy because now, in Fathia’s daily life, she still wears her hair in an Afro … she loves it!

That day of shooting, in the car on my way back home, I was proud to have produced those images in my film exactly like I had imagined.

Then, that night in the bathroom, I watched myself in the mirror as I brushed the super-straight hair on my own head.

I tried to remember the last time I had seen my natural hair. I couldn’t. I realized that I had been relaxing my hair since I was so young.

Then, I put the brush aside and I took a pair of scissors to cut my hair ….

I had never imagined that shooting my film would introduce me to myself.

I still wear straight or curly hair sometimes. But I feel so free to be able to expose my own natural Afro hair.

And I hope that each young Black girl, watching that scene in “Cuties” will experience the freedom of feeling beautiful — just as she is.