MIDDLE PASSAGE -N- ROOTS
MIDDLE PASSAGE -N- ROOTS An Exploration of Black Hair
Credits: Writer/Producer/Director: Ada M. Babino
Associate Producer: David Jacobs
Director of Photography: Marcus Smith
Production Manager: Cynthia Rudolph
Featuring: Nahisha Pettit, Antoni Sullivan
Choreographer: Lloyd Whitmore
Middle Passage -N- Roots, (MPNR) (Docu-Drama/:30/1995), is a timeless docu-drama that takes a passionate look at hair care and the ordeal that hair undergoes based on its owners ideological beliefs and society’s definition of beauty. This project was conceived as a result of the age-old notion in the Black community of good hair’ and ‘bad hair.’ The hair in this vignette is the victim whose owner unconsciously takes it through a transformation of the roots. Like the thousands of Africans who throughout history have rebelled against the yoke of slavery, the symbolism of the Middle Passage is used ironically in this film to illustrate factors that have revolutionized natural hair.
Shot on location at Jak & Co. and Gregory for Hair Salons in the northwest part of the District of Columbia, the film showcases local people as they candidly express their views on hair. These testimonials are creatively weaved around the protagonist, Carolyn’s (Nahisha Pettit) day at the beauty salon. Carolyn’s mission is to have her hair straightened to look “appropriate” for an upcoming job interview. As the stylist, (Antoni Sullivan) takes her hair through the straightening process, sound effects, ethnic music and cuts to hair strands (featuring a group of dancers dressed in black, choreographed by Lloyd Whitmore) interpret the process that the beautician puts Carolyn’s hair through as it is washed, blow dried, cut, pressed and curled. Hair seeks to rebel against various straightening methods and conditioning in order to keep its natural state of being. The end result of the story leaves Hair victorious! The film concludes with interviewees at peace with their hair giving their final hair testimonials.
Award winning cinematographer, Marcus Smith adds a rich color and texture to the video, which was originally shot on 16mm film. Smith, along with the assistance of a core group of talented local independent artists and technicians, completed production for MPNR in three days. The project however, took a total of three years to complete. Funding was received gradually from the National Black Programming Consortium, the DC Commission on the Arts & Humanities, the Pittsburgh Filmmakers Foundation and personal funds.
In addition to being selected as part of Showtime Network’s 1998 Black Filmmaker’s Grant Program, Middle Passage -N- Roots aired nationally in February as part of Showtime’s Black History Month Filmmaker’s Showcase. MPNR has been screened at a number of venues including: the Annual Festival Cinema Africano in Milan, Italy; the Images D’Ailleurs ler Espace de Cinema Noir de Paris Festival in Paris, France; the Smithsonian Associates Program in Washington, DC; the National Black Programming Consortium in Columbus, Ohio; the National Public Radio Black History Program; the Baltimore Museum of Fine Arts Film Forum Series and the High Museum in Atlanta.
“MPNR is timeless and universal in its appeal. The video plays an important role in speaking to viewer’s self-acceptance, growth and attitudes about hair” comments producer/director Ada M. Babino the owner of Jezebel Filmworks.