The celebration of Black hair and excellence was at full strength at the movie premiere of “CROWN” on Friday, May 12, where the coming-of-age story debuted at the Betty Carter Auditorium in the Major Owens Community Center in Brooklyn. The 20-minute film, written and directed by Karisma Jay and Love “Nofisat” Nafi, follows an aspiring teen ballet dancer dealing with the challenges of taming her natural hair into “submission” during a very important audition. 

“CROWN,” produced by film company Creative Susu, was inspired by the CROWN Act: “Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair.” According to the official website, the CROWN Act was created in 2019 by Dove and the CROWN Coalition to ensure protection against discrimination based on race-based hairstyles. The act extends statutory protection to hair texture and styles such as braids, locs, and twists in the workplace and public schools.

Jay and Nafi had struggles of hair acceptance as young Black girls. “We all have our Black hair stories,” said Nafi. After meeting in college, Nafi and Jay made a pact to meet weekly and hold each other accountable as creators working toward their goals. Nafi said her creative compatibility with Jay made working on “CROWN” enjoyable.

“When it came time to really think of what project we could do, what we could give birth to together, the film was the perfect first thing to do,” said Jay. They wanted their first film to be relatable in the Black community. Their short film stars Nirine S. Brown (who recently starred in Donald Glover’s “Swarm”) and teen actress/dancer Kennedy Salley. With an all-Black cast and a soundtrack of original R&B/soul mixed with Afrobeats music by Agyakomah, “CROWN” celebrates both Black hair and Black dance. 

Jay became emotional when sharing a story about a dance teacher she had when she was 7 years old. Jay recalled the former teacher telling her not to perform in dance competitions without straight hair. “When it came to doing this kind of film and sharing our stories, [we asked], Why do we have to do these things?” Jay said. These “things” referred to forced straightened hair and to the time Nafi cut her locs to join the military. “Why do we have to do these things? Because someone said?” Jay inquired.

RELATED: Companies collaborate to support The CROWN Act to end race-based hair discrimination in the workplace

The 2023 CROWN Workplace Research Study surveyed 2,990 United States women ages 25–64 between December 2022 and January 2023. The research, conducted by Dove and LinkedIn by Modulize, revealed that Black women with coily or textured hair are twice as likely to experience microaggressions in the workplace than Black women with straighter hair. The study also stated that Black women’s hair is 2.5 times more likely to be perceived as unprofessional. The research also found that approximately 66% of Black women change their hair for a job interview; 41% changed their hair from curly to straight. 

Black women feel pressures from society to straighten their hair to be successful in professional spaces, Nafi and Jay said. Nafi calls herself and Jay “change makers” who go against the grain and are revolutionary with their art. “I think people should feel free to do what they want with their hair, and it should not impact how you view them or judge them,” said Nafi. She directed her energy toward the young people who sat in the front row during the Q&A session after the film, many of them with their hair in its natural texture. “To see these young girls already embracing [and] wearing their natural hair from day one—it’s powerful!” she said. 

Jay, Nafi, Brown, and others in the audience related to not seeing many Black children with their natural hair when they were kids. “You can do all the things; don’t let anyone tell you anything different,” Brown said, looking at the Black children in the front row.

“CROWN” offers an opportunity to redefine Black beauty and representation while showcasing the multidimensional creativity of the Black hair experience in the film world.

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