Over the course of her young career Alicia K. Harris has amassed an impressive collection of short films that explore the various aspects of adolescence. Her latest short Pick is arguably her most personal film to date. Taking place on school picture day, the film observes how one seemingly innocent decision, Alliyah (Hazel Downey) opting to wear her afro, leads to several uncomfortable encounters.

Exposing the numerous micro-aggressions that black females endure simply as a result of how they wear their hair, Pick shows that the seeds of inadequacy and doubt are planted at an early age. As Alliyah’s peer’s question and degrade her hair, Harris frequently keeps her camera focused on the back and side of the protagonist’s head. By placing Alliyah’s hair in the centre of the frame, Harris effectively shows how the character’s individuality is being stripped away. Alliyah is seen as a disappointment, something less than everyone else, because her hair does not conform to white standards of hair beauty.

What makes this erasure of identity so heartbreaking is the fact that the pressure to conform can also come from within the black community. In one subtle, but powerful moment, a black teacher tells Alliyah what a pity it is that she did not put her hair in braids. It is yet another reminder of the toxic ways in which women of colour are made to feel inferior at every stage of their life. Just as with the Oscar nominated animated short Hair Love, Pick is a necessary and powerful story about embracing the beauty and uniqueness of black hair.

Screens (as part of Young Creators Showcase):
Sunday, February 16, 2 PM, TIFF Bell Lightbox

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