NEW YORK — “My Nappy Roots: A Journey Through Black Hair’itage” previewed to a packed house at the Directors Guild Theater Wednesday night. Amid intermittent applause from an ebullient crowd, the film illuminated the history, business and cultural significance of African-American hair.
The film was cosponsored by Essence magazine and SoftSheen-Carson, maker of hair products for people of African descent, brands that include Dark & Lovely and Optimum Care. Candace Matthews, president of SoftSheen-Carson, introduced the film by stating that it reflected the company’s commitment to “inspiring beauty in women from the inside out.”
“My Nappy Roots” is the directorial debut of Regina Kimbell, who worked in TV production prior to making the film. It features interviews with hair industry gurus, such as the founder of Johnson Products, and actors Vivica A. Fox and Ella Joyce.
From traditional African hair rituals to current styles, “My Nappy Roots” explores the history of African-American hair, including the ever-changing hair trend of recent decades. The film is interspersed with snippets from movies, flashed on a screen, that aptly depict these trends. The audience erupted in laughter and applause at one scene from the 1988 comedy “Coming to America” that showed an African-American family all donning the infamously greasy Eighties Jheri curl hairstyle.
“My Nappy Roots” takes a serious turn when it tells the story of the African-American hair care industry by defining the contributions of such industry pioneers as Madam C.J. Walker and George Johnson, the founder of Johnson Products and creator of the first safe chemical hair straightener.
“My Nappy Roots” was born as a five-minute piece inspired by an essay written by Kimbell’s daughter, Brighton. Following three years of development, it evolved to its current 75-minute version.
SoftSheen-Carson has been involved with the project nearly from the beginning. The relationship began when Kimbell approached the company for research and archival information. After reviewing a preliminary version of the film, Matthews and her team decided they needed to get involved with the project. “As we developed more products for our consumers, what we realized is that our hair is not just our hair,” said Matthews, “it’s a part of who we are.”
Matthews also pointed out that association with the project helps SoftSheen-Carson build its brand image with the consumer. “We want the consumer to realize that SoftSheen-Carson is a part of their lives,” said Matthews, who also appears in the film, along with Dr. Victoria Holloway Barbosa, vice president of research and development for L’Oréal’s Ethnic Research Institute in Chicago.
Kat Peeler, vice president of global marketing for SoftSheen-Carson, echoed Matthew’s sentiment of the film’s significance. “We see ourselves as a kindred spirit with the filmmaker because this film really is about our industry,” said Peeler. “We believe in and support this film.”
In an added-value promotion, SoftSheen-Carson is including a shortened 22-minute version of “My Nappy Roots” with its Optimum Care Relaxer kit. Of this offering Peeler said, “We think this is a great marriage because our consumer is so emotionally connected to her hair that we think she would really enjoy being able to experience this film.”
After the screening, Vivica A. Fox commented on her hair experiences in the film industry: “I even have to fight on movie sets to get a black hairstylist, but it’s in my contract now. My hairstylist comes with me.”
“My Nappy Roots” will be screened again on the West Coast during the summer and has been submitted to film festivals, including the Cannes Festival, seeking a distributor.