AFRO ARCHIVES – A PERFORMERS WORLD – Episodes 1-3

Our hair, we are born with it yet there is so much we do to try and change our natural hair texture, and our hair’s appearance. Antonia Opiah’s Huffington Post article  “The Changing Business of Black Hair”  reported that the black haircare industry is estimated to be worth half a trillion dollars, as in $500 billion, approximately £350 billion.  We’re talking weaves, extensions, wigs, relaxers, styling tools – mountains of money spent manipulating hair to achieve our desired look. But you knew this right? Hair Talk is Endless!

Afro Archives A Performer’s World  – is a series of discussions on hair exploring the views of actresses and actors from different cultural backgrounds, ages and genders – to compare and contrast what they think about hair and how they deal with their own. The acting world is interesting when it comes to hair and appearance because so much rides on how we look when it comes to casting. As the tide shifts strongly towards cries to diversify how we do things in casting on stage and screen, and as a trustee of the Act For Change Project – I’m interested in the detail. If I have my hair straight, or alternatively wear it natural afro style, is it affecting the kinds of roles I get? If I go into hair and make-up, are there make-up and hair products suitable for my skin tone and hair-texture? Does anyone know what to do with my hair and how it is affected by lighting, constant manipulation and even rain? Am I right in thinking the hair issues that bother me are unique to the experience of a woman of colour or do I too need to diversify my own thinking too?

In Afro Archives, there are definitely differences, but also interesting common experiences. Over the 12 Afro Archives episodes, we look at what those common experiences are, what binds us together through relationships with our hair, and then what separates, and defines us culturally. As a woman with afro-textured hair I am interested in sharing my own hair experiences. But essentially, it’s a place where we are chatting inclusively about hair and who we are (or think we are).

Afro Archives A Performer's World episodes 1 to 4
Afro Archives A Performer’s World episodes 1 to 3

AFRO ARCHIVES EPISODE 1 – True or False? “Your Hair Represents Who You Are”

Episode 1 kicks off the Afro Archives series, asking actors to question how they think they are seen and how they want to be seen – does their hair represent who they are?  The actors in this episode talk about emotional relationships to hair, comfort zones and ideals of beauty.

Our hair is connected to our culture and heritage. With all the different ways of manipulating and hiding our hair to re-design our appearance, does it mean we are hiding not only our roots, but our inherited history?

AFRO ARCHIVES EPISODE 2 – What Things Do People Say About Your Hair?

My hair looks like a Brillo pad?!!!

There is no question that the African and Afro-Caribbean woman has been the victim of verbal abuse and absolute nonsense, when it comes to other people’s comments on her afro-textured hair. Episode two of Afro Archives “What Things Do People Say About Your Hair?” is a bit of bonding over the horrors of the experience. The comparative treatment of living in a European culturally dominated country and having hair that is so different to the majority that it almost makes you a toy, worst case scenario, a freak show.

Afro-textured hair draws attention. It can make us the victim of what feels like abuse and has historically resulted in oppression – women hiding their hair as a legal requirement. True story! Check out actress Martina Laird on part one of episode 2 for a brilliant account of the madness. After looking at personal relationships to hair in episode 1, and whether it represents who we are, this episode 2 of Afro Archives places us within the context of Britain and how we are seen from the outside.

Ideas and expectations imposed by society, by others, by the industries we work in, can push us towards trying to fit in, instead of standing out. Episode 2 of Afro Archives explores the influence and effect of the external  – Episode 2 got really divided on cultural voice.

AFRO ARCHIVES EPISODE 3 – What Do You Love About Your Hair and Being An Actor?

A celebration of naturalness, and the versatility of hair. That is the best way to describe episode 3 of Afro Archives. Reflections on how hair makes us stand-out, be original and for those with afro-textured hair, how it separates us from other actresses with straight hair. The joy of being different. How remaining natural with our afro hair actually opens up options of what we can do with it. Personally, I have for many years thought of my afro hair as restrictive and frustrating. I’ve had to learn to celebrate it and doing this episode was empowering.

Within the context of acting roles, versatility is a good thing and all the actors speak about this, whether they have afro-textured hair or not. Actress Nicky Goldie, of European Jewish origin, speaks about not being recognised when her curls are tucked away in costume, that being a chameleon is a sign of a good actor.

As actors, are we restricted when it comes to our hair? Decisions about our hair can have big financial consequences because of having to change our headshots, which should be current and look like us when we walk into the audition room. Working in a visual art means that what we look like matters. This gives validation to what others think about our hair, and therefore what they think about us. If conclusions are being drawn on racial lines, doesn’t it mean that hair is a massive part of the conversation? What about conclusions being drawn consciously and subconsciously? How often you do see a dreadlocked banker on TV? What about a lawyer with her hair in twists?

AFRO ARCHIVES EPISODE 4 – What Do You Hate About Your Hair and Being An Actor?

Forwards into episode 4 of Afro Archives the actors are asked about difficulties with hair and being an actor. Actress Judith Quin (European hair) shows us her haircuts and styles over a two year period and talks about how much she can and has done with her hair despite it not being supported by her acting agents. An interesting comparison between Afro and European hair, and a shared experience by actresses.

Actress Anni Domingo hit on an element that gets explored further in the next episodes, the maintenance of afro-textured hair. I grew up in Kent and went to university in the north of England and in Belgium, so can relate to Anni’s experience very well: proximity to an afro hair-dressers affects hair style choices. Anni keeps her afro hair short and offers one of many reasons as being because where she lives, there are no afro hairdressers for women. This is a difference and absolutely fact: in certain areas of the country, there are less afro specialist hairdressers. A line starts to be drawn across our variant hair types affecting our experiences of fitting in, feeling at home, and being able to go about our day-to-day lives.

I hope you enjoy this glimpse into hair conversations within the acting world, and ideas on the need to diversify attitudes on hair and identity.

Keep following for more hair chats and acting experiences!

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About Ayesha Casely-Hayford

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