Hair raising! Crown Heights flick shows horror of gentrification

The horror! In the short film “Hair Wolf,” actress Kara Young’s character fears that invaders are sucking the lifeblood from black culture.
Mariama Diallo

This flick will make you wig out!

A new comedy-horror short filmed in Crown Heights gives a monstrous spin to gentrification and the appropriation of black culture. The Sundance-winning movie “Hair Wolf” will screen twice in Brooklyn next month, at the Bushwick Film Festival on Oct. 13 and at the Brooklyn Horror Fest on Oct. 14.

The film is set in a black hair salon, which is invaded by an obtuse, extremely creepy white woman, who touches a black woman’s hair, demands “funky braids, like Rihanna,” and begins to spread “viral” whiteness.

The idea came from a joke that snowballed, said its director.

“I saw a clump of braid lying on the ground outside my apartment in Crown Heights, which is a fairly common experience on my side of Brooklyn, especially on weekend mornings, although I’m not sure why,” said Mariama Diallo. “My boyfriend was standing next to me and I said ‘braid’ but he heard ‘brain’, and it became this silly joke that just kept going.”

Diallo started weaving together the idea of zombies in old movies mindlessly say “brains” with the modern horror of gentrification.

“The joke was an entry point — it provided this horror format that I could use to talk about cultural appropriation and this encroachment that I’ve been observing locally as the neighborhood has been changing,” she said.

The movie is sprinkled with references to vintage horror films and pop culture moments, she said.

“I really liked the idea often used in 1950s horror movies of monsters and creatures invading from the outside. Back then it was more a sign of xenophobic anxieties and fear of communism, but here it’s re-purposed to tell the story of a neighborhood with a particular character, whose residents are scared of invaders from the outside taking over,” she said.

The story is very Brooklyn-specific, she said, echoing the white hipsters now moving into the formerly majority-black neighborhoods of Crown Heights and Bedford-Stuyvesant.

“It’s a true Brooklyn story and I wanted that to come across in the movie. That’s what’s at the core of the film, this love of a space and the idea of keeping its character whole,” she said.

The movie was filmed mostly at a hair salon just 10 minutes from Diallo’s house, whose owner supported the project because its theme resonated with her, according to Diallo.

“We approached the owners and said that we were going to make a movie about cultural appropriation, and she helped us because she could identify with the ideas at the heart of the movie,” she said.

After the success of “Hair Wolf,” Diallo has started working on her feature debut, a horror film about racial tensions on a college campus.

“Hair Wolf” plays in Bushwick Film Festival’s shorts block “Fear of a Black Planet” at LightSpace Studios New York [1115 Flushing Ave. between Porter and Varick avenues in Bushwick, (347) 450–3464, www.bushwickfilmfestival.com]. Oct. 13 at 7:25 pm. $13.

And in Brooklyn Horror Film Festival’s “Laugh Now, Die Later” block at IFP Made in NY Media Center (30 John St. at Jay Street in Dumbo, www.brookolynhorrorfest.com). Oct. 14 at noon. $16.

Reach reporter Kevin Duggan at (718) 260–2511 or by e-mail at kduggan@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @kduggan16.
Vintage: The movie poster for “Hair Wolf” was inspired by the “egregiously out of date magazines,” that Diallo used to read in hair salons growing up.
Mariama Diallo

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