On the To-Watch List: Braids on a Bald Head

Braids on a Bald Head is a short movie, released in 2010, by Nigerian director Ishaya Bako.  The film shows the day in the life of a poor, married hairdresser, Hauwa Bello, “who through a brief homosexual encounter is able to muster up courage and stand up to her inattentive husband and ask for better.”

I came across the trailer for Braids on a Bald Head several months ago; it is under one minute but it was enough to pique my interest in the movie.

I have, sadly, yet to find a way to watch Braids on a Bald Head, and although the film is mentioned a lot on many websites, it is hard to get concrete information about the film outside of the its summary: “a day in the life of a Hausa hairdresser and how she is able to ask for better in her marriage after an experience that questions her sexuality.”

However, I’ve been able to gather a few things about Braids on a Bald Head based on the preview and a few websites that provided more detail on the film than its summary. Firstly, Braids on a Bald Head is entirely in Hausa (one of Africa’s most spoken languages and lingua franca across the Sahel); it was shot in Kaduna, Nigeria and features an all-Nigerian crew and cast. It is clear from the preview that the hairdresser Hauwa Bello is a practising Muslim, she dresses in a manner that is very traditional among West African Muslim women. In the course of the day/film, Hauwa goes through an experience that causes her to question her sexuality; from the preview, when she says that “we can’t do this,” you can guess this does not end well.

Braids on a Bald Head

Poster for Braids on a Bald Head. Image via Ventures Africa.

The woman Hauwa has this experience with is Samira, a mysterious woman who has just moved into the community where Hauwa and her husband live. Samira lives alone (it is generally frowned up for a woman to live alone in Nigerian cultures), and when Hauwa runs into her, Hauwa becomes curious about her. Hauwa’s curiosity eventually leads her to pay a visit to Samira’s house where she does Samira’s hair. The two women converse and forge a connection that ends in a kiss, which leaves Hauwa disconcerted. Yet this experience empowers Hauwa to demand more from her loveless marriage to Musa, her unemployed and uncaring husband.

Ishaya Bako cites the intimacy and care he witnessed between hairdressers and their clients in the market place as his inspiration behind Braids on a Bald Head.

I am curious to see how Ishaya Bako handles the lesbian subtext; homosexuality is still very much a taboo topic in Nigeria. And at the same time, the majority of the discussion on homosexuality, and homophobia, in the modern-day African context tends to focus solely on evangelical Christianity. The most potent example would be the case of Uganda and the work of evangelical Christians from the United States in spreading rampant homophobia there. I have always wondered where African women who are queer and Muslim fit into this grand narrative.

It is further fascinating as Braids on a Bald Head may be a powerful film that features Muslim women characters and tackles feminist and lesbian themes that was written and directed by a man who may or may not be Muslim. I sincerely hope that the film does not disappoint in depicting its female characters, I am also interested to see the chemistry and relationship between Samira and Amina. Admittedly, I have never seriously paid attention or considered bonds between hairdressers and their clients; however, this may be due to the fact that I tend to do my hair on my own.

I look forward to seeing Braids on a Bald Head, as the film’s subject matter has me intrigued, and I cannot resist any media that deals with LGBTIQ in an African context.

  • sharrae

    This looks like a beautiful movie. For some reason it makes me recall the narratives that lesbian and black poet, Audre Lorde sometimes narrated of the love between African women that was once celebrated.

    Like you have noted, the movie’s exploration of the links between faith, sexuality and womanhood in all of its complexities are topics that need to be explored without fear and condemnation. If you ever get a hold of the movie please let us know :).


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