“All Pressed Out” Director on Hair Politics in Black Communities

Documentary maker Melvin Bogard screened the first cut of his debut project All Pressed Out, which explores hair politics among African-American women, recently at University of the District of Columbia.

Sure, Chris Rock tried to unpack the same subject matter in his film, Good Hair, but I learned more in 10-minutes of Bogard’s rough cut than I did from the comedian’s entire film.

Here are four interesting facts I learned about Black hair politics in the United States:

Slave owners would punish black women by shaving their heads.

Plantation owners would strip women of their dignity by shaving off their hair to punish them. They would attempt to make black women undesirable and appear masculine in doing so.

Pressing was a way to distinguish yourself from the slave identity.

Straightening hair became popular in the northern cities after slavery was abolished as a way to for free black women to distinguish themselves from the slave identity. They would do this to appear more sophisticated.

The Afro changed how people saw natural hair.

Yes, Afros were a statement of pride in one’s natural hair, which challenged existing ideas of beauty among black people, and the rest of the world. But, with the likes of political activist Angela Davis sporting the hairstyle all over the media — while claiming respect from all those she engaged with her unmatched knowledge of social theory and evidence — people began to see through myths about black hair being backward and “uncivilized”.

People still fear (“all the way”) black hair

Even with this new wave of pro-black imaging going on, people are still wary to style their hair naturally. It seems that many are switching to more natural textures, however, there is still a disposition toward tightly coiled black hair.

Check out the All Pressed Out Facebook page for developments on this documentary, if you are interested