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My current job allows me to watch a lot of movies. So I just found one nestled in between some French films called Black Hair: The Korean Takeover. This movie pisses me off for a lot of reasons: I think one of the reasons is definitely that it sucks. Like cinematically it sucks. A Lot. I can’t believe that people pay money for this– I can’t believe Vassar College paid money for it.

You can watch it here btw.

And one quick note– the film totally ignores the fact that some people could be both Black and Korean.

To give a quick overview:

White dude (Aron Ranen) with a camera makes a documentary about Black Hair products being sold by Korean/American (though truthfully he not once calls them Korean Americans, but more on that in a bit). He then details how BOBSA was formed (giving himself much credit for its formation), and in fact the film seems to be BOBSA propaganda. He makes some weak connection that this supposed Korean Takeover of Black America was started in the 60s by the S. Korean and US governments, because Korea banned the export of raw Korean hair, and the US banned the import of Chinese hair a year or so later (I personally don’t think that the jingoistic trading practices of nations results directly in the issues too ethnic groups have in one country, but whatever). Then he travels around, filming black and Korean people, and being all around that white dude who’s down with black causes.

So one major issue I have with the film is the pervasive white gaze. This is a white dude who goes into black neighborhoods filming Black folks and Korean/Americans. White people aren’t even mentioned in this film. Which is odd, since we live in a very white nation. Hey, its nice for them not be the center, but when we’re viewing this through a white lens somethings off. The film is full of images of Black people blaming all the problems in the Black Community on Korean immigrants opening businesses. Their analyses is missing the effects of structural racism, which has to include analyses of Whiteness and its effects on economics (Korean immigrants sure as hell didn’t cause the majority of Black people to be at the lower rung of the class ladder).

This film, is xenophobic to the core. Between Ranen never referring to Korean Americans as Korean Americans, but only as Koreans, and Ranen often calling Black folks African-Americans (which strengthens their Americaness), the Korean/Americans are constructed as Other. In fact the discourses of invasion are rampant. Just look at the subtitle– the Korean Takeover.

So the film blames Korean/American store owners for taking over the Black Hair supply industry, and positions ownership of Black Hair stores by Black folks as our only salvation as a people (I really don’t trust bougie black folks and a white filmmaker to detail; the only hope for Black folks– ignoring the fact that black hair stores were owned almost exclusively by black people at one point and the fact that the whole idea ignores class). Ranen also never seriously interviews Korean/Americans– how hard is it to come to a new country, where one is marked as perpetually alien, and try to make a living.

I really dislike this film in the way that positions Black folks and Korean/American folks as competitors instead of as mutual victims of a white supremacist society.

And my views on black hair as a whole are going to need a post of their own, but since Ranen interviewed one person to see their views as far as what Malcolm X said about hair. I wasn’t pleased with the person’s answer (that we’re beyond the point where black people dislike their black features… that isn’t completely true at all), and I wasn’t pleased with the way Ranen did the scene.

So needless to say– I won’t suggest anyone watch this film because I agree with what it says, but rather because I think it is an example of xenophobic film, and an example of how far Black and Korean/American communities in our cities need to work on things together.

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