Style videos could start a new wave of good hair days
Gloria Requena flips through a magazine, doing what comes naturally at most black hair salons:
“I went one place one time and I had to be there for six hours. You have to have patience for that,” she says. “I was going home at 2 o’clock in the morning.” She quit that place for Phaze II, just outside the Baldwin Hills-Crenshaw Mall, where she has never waited as long.
But on a recent Saturday, in anticipation of getting her hair colored before going on vacation, the Culver City child-care worker, 47, is killing time.
She glances up at the TV.
Puts down her magazine.
On the screen, a model flounces down a mirrored runway. Tucking her thumb in the top of her low-slung black leather Daisy Dukes, she tugs them even lower, revealing a mile of midriff between the black leather short shorts and a ruffled, high-collared print blouse.
As she struts in shiny, thigh-high boots, the rapper Lil’ Kim sings in the background about a “black Barbie dressed in Bulgari.”
The latest styles from Baby Phat own Requena’s attention.
“I like this. It shows what’s in fashion,” she says. “I’m watching it because my daughter is a fashion lover.”
She can’t see this at home.
No one can.
This is Hair-TV.
Actually, it’s UBC-TV, an “Access Hollywood"-style promotional program with plenty of black faces in the mix. Launched this week, it will be distributed via monthly videotapes to the Urban Beauty Collective, a network of 10,000 black salons and barbershops across the country.
Creator and executive producer Ava DuVernay, who owns a boutique public relations agency that bears her name, came up with the concept. She then pitched it to clients, movie studios, record labels and others.
The premiere edition leads with a behind-the-scenes look at “Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas,” supplied by DreamWorks Pictures. Warner Bros. Home Video and the producers of the celebrity-heavy syndicated television show “nContrast” were also happy to pay to play before a captive urban audience.
UBC-TV is distributed free. But it’s not available just anywhere.
“It’s invitation only,” says DuVernay, who depended on research and word-of-mouth to identify stylists, barbers and salons “with an edgy sensibility” in the top 16 urban markets.
“I can tell you some of the hottest areas,” she says. “In New York, definitely Brooklyn. There are a couple of streets that are 99% black and that have 27 salons and barbershops on one street. In Los Angeles, Crenshaw [Boulevard] is comparable. There are 30 salons and barbershops along the stretch of Crenshaw from Wilshire to the 105 [Freeway]. Carson, right now, is really hot; two salons in particular. Charlotte, N.C., is very hot with hair, as is New Orleans. There’s a lot of trendsetting going on. It used to be Atlanta.”
The idea came to her while she was getting her hair done.
“I was sitting in the salon. I was on my third hour. I’d read all the Jet magazines, read all the Honeys, read all of the Essences. I’d already bought some silver earrings from someone who came in,” she says, referring to the usual parade of vendors hawking cake, lunches, jewelry, clothing, CDs and videotapes.
“I started thinking, ‘Can’t we make use of this time somehow?’ ”
Her twists take hours.
“With our culture, we don’t just do washing and blow-drying,” explains her stylist, Karen Butler, 33, the manager of Phaze II, where UBC-TV was tested. “We may do braiding, twisting, weaving, cuts and colors. There are so many different styles. Sometimes you get stuck here.”
Because DuVernay has no backers, she approves everything on the program.
“We’re responsible for the content in the salon,” she says. “A mother could easily take her son in there to get a haircut. There could be a Christian woman who doesn’t appreciate violence.” She turned down an alcohol company that “literally wanted to have someone swigging a bottle.”
She also put the “Sinbad” story at the top of the tape.
African Americans “like things other than vehicles that star black people,” she says. “We watch everything. We watch ‘Friends.’ We watch ‘ER.’ We go to see ‘Finding Nemo’ just like anybody else.... It could have been really easy for [DreamWorks] to say, ‘Well, we don’t have a black lead in this,’ but they were trying to reach black parents just as well as white parents.”
The debut tape closes with rapper DMX pumping it up in a music video, included on the DVD of “Cradle 2 the Grave,” the movie he starred in with martial arts expert Jet Li. DuVernay’s agency put together a segment on the film.
“Warner Bros. gave us all their raw elements, the behind-the-scenes footage that was uncut,” she says. “We specifically put a lot of behind-the-scenes and action stunts on it.” Just for the guys.
Her team also cut the four-minute showcase on “nContrast” from highlights that included the Baby Phat fashion show.
“Women are checking it for the clothes and the gear,” DuVernay says. “Brothers are checking it for the women.”
While getting her hair cut, Lanarda Westfield, 41 and a data entry clerk, stares up at Beyonce -- her long, honey-blond hair flowing well past her shoulders in a curvaceous pageboy a la Lauren Bacall -- in a Pepsi ad. “I like the way she keeps her hair,” she says. The ad, part of the “nContrast” promotion, runs twice.
At a bank of dryers, several women gossip about R. Kelly, the R&B; singer indicted on 21 counts of child pornography.
“Everybody has an opinion,” chimes in stylist Resa Henry, 33, who is working on the shoulder-length hair of Shaneika Pierce, 26, a customer service manager from Inglewood.
“The boy needs Jesus,” Carol Shields, 49, a preschool teacher from West L.A., says to her longtime friend Mitzi Guillory, 53, a medical biller who lives in Jefferson Park.
They are waiting for Andre Meadows, “fortysomething,” who has done hair off and on for 20 years.
His and every other head there looks up when a group photo of the Phaze II stylists appears on the screen. A different shop will be featured on UBC-TV every month. “It’s a great idea,” he says. “You get to see people in different states, and people get to see us.”
While they wait.