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Mills student features film in national festival

Mills College’s very own third year Imani Karpowich Smith flew over 2,000 miles this September to have her short film featured in the week-long 5th Annual Greater Cleveland Urban Film Festival (GCUFF).

Imani's film has found success at Ohio festival. (Xiomara Hooker)
Imani’s film has found success at Ohio festival. (Xiomara Hooker)

Her film, “Nappy Makes Me Happy,” delves into one of the most poignant symbols of Black culture: hair. The story follows a girl going through the process of picking out her hair. During this, she poses as multiple Black icons: Angela Davis, Diana Ross, and Jimi Hendrix to name a few. The short film’s climax shows the girl going all out in a Prince costume, lip-syncing and dancing to the late singer’s iconic hit “Purple Rain.” As the short film culminates, the girl is posting a photo of herself on Facebook captioned: “I am loving my hair right no-” before deciding at the last moment to delete the post – ending with a crestfallen look on her face before walking out of the shot, afraid that people will react negatively to her hair. 

Content featured in the short film was inspired by Karpowich Smith’s own life experiences.

“This whole thing was inspired by my childhood,” Karpowich Smith said.

As a kid, Karpowich Smith would pretend to be TC, the main character from her favorite movie “Car Wash.” The 1976 cult classic features an ensemble cast with big names of the time like Bill Duke, Richard Pryor, and The Pointer Sisters. Shot in an episodic format, Car Wash follows a day in the lives of employees and the owner of Dee-Luxe Car Wash set in Los Angeles, California.

“His [TC’s] super hero persona in the movie is The Fly and I used to pretend to be him as a kid. After that I thought, this would be a really cool concept, and just went from there.”  

Despite the societally imposed shame surrounding natural hair, especially in the United States, Black hair has retained its status as political symbol within the community–this is seen in various social collaboratives that strive to empower Black people and promote Black culture, such as The Natural Hair Movement and I Love Being Black.

The decision to submit Karpowich Smith’s short film to the festival circuit came after presenting a rough cut of the piece to her Video II class, taught by Professor Samara Halperin, a professor of video production in Mills’ studio arts department. Because the timing of the short film and the tragic death of Prince coincided, a scene that was once meant to offer comedy had now taken on a completely different meaning.

“I think the scope of iconic people that Imani chose to represent is really beautiful just historically, but also when Imani was making this video, Prince died,” Halperin said. “To have Prince be such an intrinsic part of this video, it just all came together so right and so beautifully. I know it’s going to do extremely well in the film festival circuit. I’m so proud of every step she made with this piece.”

With the full support of her colleagues and professor, Karpowich Smith began submitting her short film to the festival circuit.

Imani’s short film was accepted into the 5th Annual GCUFF in August, irrefutably a first of many successes in the future. The festival, in its fifth year of operation, creates an opportunity for Black filmmakers to showcase and celebrate their work in the face of an industry that actively limits the exposure of works by people of color.

Although the film was submitted to multiple festivals, GCUFF was a priority for the young filmmaker.

“GCUFF was the film festival that I really wanted to get into because it was focused on Black filmmakers and this film is for the Black audience,” Karpowich Smith said.

The film presents a core aspect of identity that is not only relatable to people who also identify as Black, but also brings to light the shaming of natural hair in a way that opens up a dialogue for this issue with those who identify outside of the target audience. Written, directed, and featuring Karpowich Smith herself, the piece touches not only its audience, but the filmmaker as well.

“Even though I’ve worn my hair natural my whole life, I felt uncomfortable and self-conscious about how my hair looked,” she said. “I made the short film to speak to people who feel this way. It was also a journey for me in making it.”

Nappy Makes Me Happy is not available to the public in its entirety, but you can go to filmmaker’s Vimeo page, Imani k, to check out the trailer and a brief clip.