The Politics of Hair and Self-Care with Kourtney Jackson—Creative Connect Mentee

By Lidia Abraha, p
Posted on August 11, 2020

From a young age, Black people are taught that our hair isn’t simply something that sits on our head—it’s a reflection of our self-image, community and ancestry. For centuries, natural hair and protective styles have been punished and criminalized in the workplace, schools and our everyday interactions with the world. Kourtney Jackson, an up-and-coming Toronto-based filmmaker and writer, explores this in her award-winning documentary Wash Day. 

As part of our Creative Connect program, Kourtney was mentored by international filmmaker Sara Elgamal during the creation of her short doc which won the 2018 Emerging Director’s Spotlight Award at Regent Park Film Festival. Her film also premiered at TIFF Next Wave and recently screened at Breakthroughs Film Festival.  

Wash Day highlights the journey of three Black women navigating domestic acts, like washing their hair, in the intimacy of their homes. This award-winning film sheds a light on the complexities of self-care for Black women, and how public perceptions take a toll on their autonomy.  The full film can be found on Sisterhood Media TV.

We caught up with Kourtney who’s just starting her Sundance Ignite and Adobe Fellowship and in the beginning stages of her next project, that will focus on her familial relationship with the Jamaican staple breakfast dish, Ackee and Saltfish. Read the interview below as we talk about everything from the production of her film Wash Day, to the politics of Black hair, self-care and how mentorship at Nia Centre supported her growth and creative process as an artist.

Stills from Wash Day, an award-winning short-documentary by Kourtney Jackson.
Stills from Wash Day, an award-winning short-documentary by Kourtney Jackson.

How would you describe your artistry in one word and why?

I would say my artistry is “Evolving.” Right now, I’m in a state of limbo and parsing through the various aspects of who I am as a person, the work I’ve created, the things I love and am inspired by, and using these discoveries to find a path forward in this time of uncertainty.

Can you talk about the inspiration behind your short doc Wash Day? What lessons and ideas did you want viewers to walk away with?

When I went natural at 14 and started doing my own hair, wash days were my least favourite day of the week. Washing my hair would take up the better half of my day and I couldn’t rush through the process or my hair would suffer for it. I had to part and wash my hair in sections, I had to wait an hour or more for my deep conditioner to fully soak into my strands, I had to finger-detangle my wet hair because a comb would break it, and then spend another few hours styling it. The next day, I would go out into the world and navigate invasive questions about my hair and hygiene practices, and read news about people getting fired from their jobs or kicked out of school because of their afro-textured hair. Wash day would come around again, and I would endure that incredibly long process of doing my hair only to re-enter a world that was frightened and utterly confused by the inert strands of protein that came out of my follicles. There was something about that cycle that was interesting to me.

As someone who also had a hostile relationship with my body throughout my youth, and didn’t always possess the tools to understand and confront anti-blackness, I was really invested in the tenderness and specificity of care Black women give to their hair and bodies in private which then immediately become the sites of our oppression, objectification, and marginalization when leaving our homes. 

Kourtney Jackson Filmmaker

I really just wanted to highlight the interiorities of the incredible Black women featured in the film. As well as the truth that, as a Black person, you can be working tirelessly to identify and unlearn your own internalized anti-blackness but the world we live in is very much uninterested in doing so.

In what ways has the mentorship program at Nia Centre supported you during the production of Wash Day?

I met my mentor, Sara Elgamal, shortly before I started shooting the film, and we agreed to meet up when I had a rough cut. I spent numerous weeks alone in an editing suite experimenting with different versions of the film and ran into a lot of mental roadblocks that disengaged me from the work. Sara came to the studio I was holed up in that summer and provided some invaluable feedback on my latest cut. She also reassured me and assuaged some of my anxieties and prescriptions I had about what the film should be.

Woman combing hair
Stills from Wash Day, an award-winning short-documentary by Kourtney Jackson
Woman holding braids
Stills from Wash Day, an award-winning short-documentary by Kourtney Jackson

How has your relationship with mentors supported your growth as an artist? 

What I appreciated most about Sara and other artists I’ve had the pleasure of learning from is that they’ve always made themselves accessible and available as a resource for additional insight and information. I remember one filmmaker told a group of us younger filmmakers that he was just someone who made more films than we did, and I always appreciate when artists working with younger visionaries make the effort to remove any hierarchies in spaces of learning.

What projects are you currently working on or plan to launch soon? 

I’m developing a project about fame, mass desire and obsession, and another project loosely centred around ackee and saltfish. That dish holds a lot of sentimental value for me, but it also has a painful history and origin. Ackee is also poisonous if harvested prematurely and ingested. The project definitely requires further research beyond my own experiences and knowledge of my heritage and culture, but I’m excited for the deep dive, and to subvert something that has been a symbol of familial love and care in my life.

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