The Pan African Film Festival (PAFF) has returned to Los Angeles to celebrated the diversity found within varying Black diasporic storytelling. The largest Black arts and film event in the country, PAFF brings together artists from across the global Black community for a moment of recognizing innovative achievements in Black film genres.
Contributing to this display is Haitian-Canadian filmmaker Fitch Jean who will have his short film More Than Hair shown during the festival. The film depicts the budding relationship of a young Black boy with his hair and the immense impact it would later have on his livlihood.
Jean spoke with EBONY about the film and the significant themes found within.
EBONY: Your film More Than Hair is being screened for the first time at the Pan African Film Festival. How are you feeling about having it shown during the festival? And, how have your personal experiences shaped the work?
Fitch Jean: I am very excited! For myself, I'm not exactly like the main character in the story but I've had issues in the past before with my hair. When I was in high school, I remember I used to not know what to do with my hair and would do what was the easiest way I thought that I could blend in. I wasn't familiar with hair products or anything that could make my hair look its best. Thus, I was inclined to work on something that examined those things, especially when it came to just Black boys and their hair. There hasn't been anything that''s been explored on the screen when it came to us and this experience.
With the threat of things like hair discrimination, many still see Black hair as being a controversial subject. When did you realize the power in your own hair?
It took some time for me. I think that it really came down to me just appreciating my Blackness a lot more. Being of a darker complexion growing up, I was sometimes picked on at school. Because of that, there was always this feeling that darker wasn't better. As I grew older, I started just falling in love with myself and getting more of that self love. I think that's when everything else fell in line. This not only meant appreciating my own skin color, but also my hair. I started digging into my heritage and the importance of what Black hair means. It's not a curse; it's a crown.
What is still wildly misunderstood about Black hair?
There's a lot of misconceptions about Black hair and it comes from different areas. A lot of people that are not Black don't understand or don't know how to properly style or take care of Black hair. This is referenced at the beginning of the film—just as the mother has no idea what to do with her child's hair because she's just not accustomed to that kind of hair texture. Because it's different from the European standards, others will look at Black hair as if it's unkempt or unprofessional. I think that's one of the things that we've dealt with a lot as a people.
Another thing that I also realized is that for Black boys, having a lot of hair can be portrayed as a bad thing. As kids, Black boys are asked to cut their hair short very early on and to keep it like that because that's a "professional" way of looking. If you have cornrows or locs, they're deemed as improper and you are treated unfairly. I wanted to show that hair is more than just simply hair and also challenge the misconceptions about our hair in the film.
Through the young boy Hayden, this film utilizes the barbershop as a significant communal meeting ground for Black people. Can you speak to the importance of Black people building community to invoke unity through culture in spite of the need for external validation?
When you go to a barbershop, you are likely to see other people that look like you with similar struggles. We often say that going to the barbershop is like therapy because you're sitting in a chair and your barber is your therapist. You're sitting there with him for an hour or so and just talking. For a lot of us, it's calming and reassuring. You feel this sense of belonging when you go to the barbershop. That transference of wisdom is a community therapy. It's learning on learning. There's a lot that goes on in a barbershop. Something that can seem so mundane is such an important part of our culture and of our self-discovery.