Blackkklansman: A Focus on Afro Hair

Having previously watched the movie Blackkklansman we feel that there are multiple avenues of discussion. This is a story of racial tension. 

“It’s (racism) becoming mainstream…It’s (politics) another way to sell hate…One day we get someone in the White House that embodies it” says Sergeant Trapp. 

Well… no words.

We particularly wish to focus this discussion on the subject of identity and hair (that is of course afro-hair)! While this film is set in 1970s, we want to highlight the similarities to the current time in 2022.

Afro-hair is a hair type that proves itself to be more than just hair. Afro hair embodies the Black experience, identity, powder, unity and defiance! It is a hair texture that turns heads and sparks curiosity with ease, having a magnetic coolness and je ne sais quoi about it.

We love how beautifully afro hair has been captured and weaved into the narrative of Blackkklansman, there are multiple symbols and meanings. Yet there is an inward “twoness” that Black people face in society and in the workplace. This movie captures that.

So let’s talk about the significance of black hair.

Afro hair provides a strong attachment to the Black identity…plus there’s its natural abilities at grabbing attention too! 

  • In the very first shot where we are introduced to Ron, he fixes his hair before making a big decision; applying to join the police force. This can be likened to fixing his crown. Ron does this towards the end of the film too, prior to making another big decision where you see him going against his chief’s order (to cease contact with the KKK). He does this anyway – contacting the KKK leader to reveal he is not actually White!
  • Ron gifts his date Patricia an afro-pick necklace, further symbolising not only the importance of black hair, but also the trendy and coolness of afro hair.
  • Yet Ron suggests cutting his hair whilst on the force. There is an element of ‘tokenism’ in this scene – Ron as the only, visible and representative Black person on the force, with the Chief responding to Ron, to keep his hair because he likes ‘the look’.
  • Assimilating and code switching are unique aspects of Black identity that cannot be related to by other races. More often than not, Black people are expected to display an ‘appropriate appearance’ and ‘appropriate feelings’ to adhere to social rules that have been set by the ‘dominant’ group that has the power – White people. 
  • The central theme running through the film is the relationship Ron develops with the KKK. Ron has two identities. This dichotomy is represented through Ron as Black in the office and as the ‘other’ where that he curates an identity as White. This demonstrates how Black people evidence double consciousness and codeswitch every day due to the constant racism and microaggressions they face every day. 
  • Black people are expected to tone down, conceal or hide parts of their identity for the sake of other people’s perceived comfort, especially in professional/work related environments. 
  • Ron and fellow officer Flip Zimmerman are in the records room during the conversation, Ron responds to Flip saying, “That’s what some light-skinned Black folk do, they pass for White.”
  • Identity is strongly tied to black features which unfortunately, are often, undermined, ridiculed and minimalised in society. Kwame Ture speaks to the Black student union and says that Black people must define beauty for Black people. brother Kwame’s speech is centred around black love, identity and acceptance and he preaches about loving your natural “thick lips” and “nappy hair”!
  • At the shooting range, the KKK are shooting at targets with exaggerated black features (afro hair, big lips, bum), again reinforcing the significance and strong attachment black features have in perceptions of black identity.
  • Multiple shots in the movie are used where the only thing in frame are the back of people’s heads and their afros. These shots are engaging and magnetic. 
  • The afro is also used as a symbol for unity of the black power movement and in multiple scenes, the spectator is drawn to appreciate gatherings of people all choosing to style their hair in one unified, deliberate way, an afro!
  • There is a strong relationship between black hair and black power. Black hair is more than just hair. It’s a crown of strength, perseverance, unity and determination! The movie shares this significance in a scene with a banner featuring the iconic close fist, black power symbol along with a man sporting an afro-pick in his hair and more notably, his afro-pick is in the shape of the black power, closed fist symbol.
  • Towards the end of the film Ron says to Patricia “two afros that touch together is good luck”. They then continue a discussion centred around the afro-pick necklace Ron had given her earlier on in the movie. This again highlights the importance of the afro!

Whilst there are further notable examples of Black identify and afro hair throughout this movie, we have chosen few to support critical conversations on race.

  • Dr Elizabeth Shaw and Kerry Obihara