Sunday, May 18, 2008

the day before the audition -- hair, hair, everywhere!

i got a call from my agent for an AT & T commercial at beth melsky casting near the flatiron building. the set-up? it was a support group and i was "susan." when she described the character as "somewhat polished," i asked if i should wear a wig and she let out this perky yet elongated yeeeeeeees that made me burst into laughter. i knew what that meant: if i wanted a shot at this one, i had to take care of business.

i washed and conditioned my hair and then i worked through it with a blow dryer -- an all day event reduced to an evening of hard labor. but it didn't stop there. i went to 125th street and decided to go with the first nice african lady that approached me. and there were quite a few. after some haggling (because you have to haggle; that's just the way things get bought and sold, and it makes what you're haggling over more valuable) she cornrows my hair so that i can put on a wig cap comfortably. now the wig i'll wear to the audition will have me looking "somewhat polished." heh. i suppose i could find some other way of putting my hair away but anything else makes it look as though i'm smuggling something on my head, and that can't possibly read well on camera.

the upshot of it all has me looking more like a nigerian graduate student or an office worker from ghana -- young and african with my own air of sophistication, and yet so desperate to fit in, to blend somehow (is that even possible?!) or at least not look like a threat to the status quo. the idea is to be the black woman that someone behind a desk thinks of as pretty. apparently when it's time to look "somewhat polished," this doesn't involve my natural hair.

should i protest by showing up with an afro and my fist in the air a la angela davis? i suppose i could -- but that's not going to get me the job, now is it. this question of "what is black beauty" is answered everyday a thousand times over whenever you look at a black woman in an any kind of an ad or album cover or whatever. how far she has to move away from what she actually looks like to encompass that ideal is your answer. shifting things in the right direction is an inside job. if cornrows and natural hair were trendy to the extreme, absolutely everyone would do it. even the white folks. especially the white folks.

in the end, preparation is everything -- not necessarily talent. who would ever guess that i would have to do all of this to my hair to audition for a commercial?

1 comment:

AJ Muhammad said...

Now here's the interesting part. An acquaintance of mine, Shonnese Coleman, an actress/writer who is based in California has been many commercials and wears her hair natural in them. Shonnese's hair is kinky (not the kind of hair some biracial women have and you know what I mean) and for about 10 years she twists it (two strand/double strand twist) and then takes them out and wears it like. So that gives you an idea of what it looks like. Her length is about up to her chin. She has done commercials for McDonalds, Wendys, AOL and recently for Region banking. And I love that it because she's been able to get the job. It does seem that there are a spate of TV Ads where black women are allowed to have their natural hair in commercials. I think it has to do with who the demographic of the commercial is. Also you probably know the NYC based actress Saidah Erika Ekulona who has done a lot of commercials with her natural hair and she ain't straightening for nobody!!! So, someone's idea of polished might not necessarily be a blown out afro, but I do see many Black women in commercials with close cropped naturals a la the model Janine Green or Lisa Butler and then there are women like an actresses YaYa DaCosta Johnson, Crystal Noelle, Shonnese Coleman and Saidah whose untwisted kinky hair is camera ready. Then you have the other end of the spectrum where you and other Black women have had to wear wigs for commercials or have relaxed hair/weaves/braids like Sharon Wilkins or Yvette Nicole Brown. So it is schizophrenic but I am glad to see that there are Black women actors with different looks (ranging from Tracy Thoms to Queen Latifah to Angela Bassett to Loretta Devine etc.) out there not just the chemically straightened hair European esthetic (whether it be weave or someone's own hair). I wonder what response you have gotten if you have worn untwisted hair or kinky textured hair to an audition. So the sisters of various hues do have presence and I am glad that they are out there working and being beautiful and showing that there's no one image. -A.J. Muhammad