Zina Saro-Wiwa is no stranger to political activism. The Brooklyn-based British Nigerian filmmaker/producer/director is the daughter of late Nigerian environmental and human rights activist, Ken Saro-Wiwa. Ken Saro-Wiwa was an activist who stood up for his people of the Niger-Delta whose environment and lives were being destroyed by the crude oil extraction and the total disregard for safeguards by the Nigeria government and the Royal Dutch Shell company.
In November 1995, Ken Saro-Wiwa was arrested and executed by then military president, the late General Sani Abacha, for his activism efforts. Ken is considered a Nigerian human rights icon, an environmental martyr and an inspiration to many. At the time of his death, Zina Saro-Wiwa was only 19 years old!
With such an amazing legacy left behind by her father, it is no wonder that Zina is a purposeful and accomplished multihyphenate who wants to leave a legacy of her own behind. Having already directed several documentaries, including the award-winning and HBO-broadcast "This is My Africa," Zina decided to make this one a little more personal: she made a documentary about black women leaving behind the relaxers and making the transition to natural hair. Originally planning to highlight the journey other women were making in their natural transition, Saro-Wiwa found herself taking the plunge herself by doing the big chop (cutting off every inch of chemically relaxed tresses and beginning hair growth anew with natural hair).
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In an article published in The New York Times, Saro-Wiwa shares that rather than being a purely political statement, “this is a movement characterized by self-discovery and health.” However, she explains that anything that goes against the wide standard is certainly a political statement: “But black hair and the black body generally have long been a site of political contest in American history and in the American imagination. Against this backdrop, the transition movement has a political dimension — whether transitioners themselves believe it or not. Demonstrating this level of self-acceptance represents a powerful evolution in black political expression. If racial politics has led to an internalization of self-loathing, then true transformation will come internally, too.”
This is particularly poignant to black women everywhere, particularly to African women. Much like African-American women and other Africans in the diaspora, African women have overwhelmingly embraced the use of chemical relaxers and weaves as the standards of beauty. Natural hair within the African community in African countries is still sadly a rarity. Interestingly, it is the Africans who have returned home from the diaspora that have begun this movement towards embracing natural hair.
Though it is very incorrect and may be even offensive to attest that all black women who do not choose to wear their hair as it grows naturally have some sort of identity crisis or self-loathing, it is clear that the dislike of our natural hair (and even dark skin tone, which is a story for another day) is very closely related to colonization and the widespread inferiority complex that Africans took on as a result. That inferiority complex is still very alive and well today; that is a tragedy.
That said, below is the short documentary by Zina Saro-Wiwa.
Please visit The New York Times for the full article.
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Photo credit: The New York Times