A seven-minute animated film turned into an Oscar win recently for a Platt High School graduate who was part of the production crew.
James Rolstone, who graduated from Platt in 2013, worked as a production coordinator on “Hair Love.” The film centers on the relationship between an African-American father, Stephen, his daughter, Zuri, and her hair.
In between the lesson of self-love and self-acceptance is the challenge of styling natural hair.
Rolstone was a theater arts student at Platt High School and won the Frank A. Lamphier Art Merit Prize in his senior year. He studied filmmaking, editing, cinematography and post-production work at Emerson College.
“Endlessly proud of the work done on this short, and happy I get to work with such talented people everyday,” he posted to Facebook after the win.
Rolstone, who could not be reached for comment, now works at Six Point Harness, an animation studio in Los Angeles.
“Hair Love” was shown in theaters alongside “The Angry Birds Movie 2” on Aug. 14, 2019, and later released on YouTube.
“He was very involved in theater, the arts, band and was in six plays,” said theater teacher Ethan Warner. “One of the shows he wrote here as a playwright is what he submitted to get into film school.”
A group of Platt students had seen “Hair Love” after it received Oscar buzz, Warner said, before they even knew an alumnus had worked on the production.
“We have a very diverse school,” Warner said. “The students felt it was a powerful piece. Beyond the racial issues, the familial issues were very important to them. We are very excited to see James pursue his dreams.” Challenging stereotypes
“Hair Love” was directed by Matthew Cherry, a former NFL wide receiver who retired from football in 2007. In his acceptance speech at the Oscars earlier this month, Cherry referenced the CROWN Act. The acronym stands for “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair.” The act seeks to ensure protection against discrimination based on hair texture and protective styles.
Cherry took note of CROWN after Texas high school student Deandre Arnold was told he could not participate in graduation unless he cut his dread locks.
“‘Hair Love’ was done because we wanted to see more representation in animation,” Cherry said. “We wanted to normalize black hair and there’s a very important issue out there, the CROWN Act. If we can get this passed in all 50 states, it will help stories like Deandre Arnold’s stop.”
Cherry said in later interviews that there were three reasons for making the film: Shine a light on black hair, normalize black families and highlight black fathers.
City Councilor Larue Graham, who is also executive director of the Meriden Boys & Girls Club, said there is real discrimination against black youths for braids, or color of braids, or dress.
But Meriden’s diversity makes it less of an issue.
“I don’t believe we come up against it in Meriden,” Graham said.
He agreed that there are prevalent stereotypes against black fathers.
“I don’t believe that absentee fathers can be stereotyped,” Graham said. “There are good and bad fathers anywhere. I take great pride in the relationship I have with my kids, my daughter in particular. I had no issue doing her hair.”
Graham recalls many times it was left up to him to do his daughter’s hair.
Stereotypes “are prevalent,” he said. “I don’t think they are at all accurate but they are prevalent.”
David Ortiz has witnessed black hair discrimination firsthand as a barber and stylist at Feel Fresh on West Main Street in Meriden.
“People deal with that all the time,” Ortiz said. “You get classified urban and in some places that’s a negative. But not here.”
Ortiz is insulted when customers come in and ask “Do you know how to cut black people hair?” he said. “I get offended, it’s not black people hair, it’s coarse hair, curly, ethnic hair. Dominicans, Puerto Ricans have the same hair.”
Ortiz works part-time with disengaged and disenfranchised youth in the local high schools. The teens are primarily those who don’t want to go to college. He calls his program about setting goals and making affirmations, the “Feel Fresh Way.”
“We shouldn’t be asking that you should change your look to fit in,” Ortiz said. “We promote the individual. We do dreads here from white to purple to orange, green and blue.” Mindset
Ellen Parks, owner of Dynamic Hair on West Main St., estimated about 40 percent of African-American women like their hair natural. The other 60 percent want to change it, sometimes a lot and sometimes just a little.
“It’s just a mindset about the person,” Parks said. “No matter how beautiful that person is, that extra hair (weave) gets you more spunk. When they’re girls, they have to have that for their prom or birthdays.”
All the conditioning and relaxing products help black women manage their hair between salon visits, she said.
“You can straighten it, blow it, twist it, braid it, sew it, and some people wear wigs,” she said. “And some people gotta go natural cuz they’re proud. It all has to do with how they learn to manage it or how they feel about themselves.”