Model Turns Reality Show Mishap Into Inspiring Film

Trinidad Guardian – As­pir­ing young T&T mod­el Gabriel­la Bernard’s 20-minute short film “Black Hair” is being re­leased at the T&T Film Fes­ti­val to­day at Movie Towne and it’s based on how she be­came a vic­tim of “hair sham­ing” dur­ing the lat­est edi­tion of the Caribbean Next Top Mod­el com­pe­ti­tion.

The com­pe­ti­tion, which com­plet­ed its fourth sea­son this year, was host­ed by for­mer Miss Uni­verse Wendy Fitzwilliam, who is al­so the ex­ec­u­tive pro­duc­er.

Al­though the show was shot since last year and aired in Feb­ru­ary this year, Bernard now wants an apol­o­gy from Fitzwilliam for be­ing co­erced to chem­i­cal­ly straight­en her hair or face elim­i­na­tion from the com­pe­ti­tion and for be­ing called un­pro­fes­sion­al for de­fend­ing her right to keep her hair nat­ur­al dur­ing the episode in ques­tion.

In a clip of the episode in which she faced the sit­u­a­tion, which was re­leased on so­cial me­dia, a vis­i­bly up­set Bernard, who was in a sa­lon, was heard say­ing she did not want her hair chem­i­cal­ly straight­ened and al­so giv­ing rea­sons why. One of those rea­sons, Bernard said, was that she want­ed to em­brace the “nat­ur­al beau­ty and em­pow­er­ment of black peo­ple.”

“You need to un­der­stand that my hair is my iden­ti­ty…peo­ple seek me out just be­cause of my hair,” she told the hair­dress­er.

In the clip, af­ter Bernard agrees to even­tu­al­ly chem­i­cal­ly treat her hair, Fitzwilliam is heard say­ing: “Dar­ling…what was all of that in my sa­lon? I need you to ex­plain to me why you were so un­be­liev­ably naughty and un­pro­fes­sion­al?”

Bernard al­so took to bored­pan­ to ex­plain her ex­pe­ri­ence in the episode. She ex­plained that “black peo­ple” have been con­di­tioned “for so long to be­lieve that our at­trib­ut­es as black peo­ple should be hid­den or ashamed of. Why must we con­tin­ue to con­form to make oth­ers com­fort­able? If one wish­es to wear her hair straight­ened she should, if she wish­es to wear her hair nat­ur­al she should al­so.”

She de­scribed Fitzwilliam’s at­ti­tude to­wards her as a “pas­sive, ag­gres­sive and scold­ing.” Bernard al­so took to her Face­book page where she called on Fitzwilliam to apol­o­gise to her pub­licly.

“This is lu­di­crous as far as I can see. I do love Wendy and am proud of her ac­com­plish­ments on be­half of our coun­try, at the same time I’m so ap­palled at this at­ti­tude and scold­ing to­wards a gor­geous young woman with a head of healthy beau­ti­ful hair,” she added.

Asked why she en­dured the treat­ment and stayed in the com­pe­ti­tion, where she fin­ished third, Bernard said, “When I weighed the pros and cons, I de­cid­ed to stay. Yes, yes, yes a mil­lion times I should have left, but look­ing back I told my­self I had come so far, left my job, looked up to Wendy, want­ed to be an in­ter­na­tion­al mod­el all my life, I was so close…Did I come all this way to give up now?”

She added: “I would al­ways look back and won­der “what if.” So I de­cid­ed to jump, hop­ing to win, but I came in third place. You can imag­ine how dis­ap­point­ing it was mak­ing such huge sac­ri­fices, all for noth­ing.”

In the clip, af­ter even­tu­al­ly al­low­ing her hair to be re­laxed, Bernard blurt­ed out “Wow…I look like Wendy!”

How­ev­er, Bernard ad­mit­ted that it was all an act.

“I de­cid­ed to fake it. No, I re­al­ly didn’t think I looked like Wendy, but it was a good line to say. No, I didn’t love the hair … I took all my at­ti­tude and swal­lowed it. I wasn’t me. I wasn’t tru­ly me, and I cried about it every sin­gle night un­til I got it chopped off two months lat­er.”

Bernard said she is now all about want­i­ng to help em­pow­er oth­er peo­ple like her to stand up for them­selves and be true and au­then­tic to their iden­ti­ty.

Bernard’s doc­u­men­tary was se­lect­ed to screen at the 2018 Trinidad & To­ba­go Film Fes­ti­val (Sep 21-25) and the 2018 Bal­ti­more In­ter­na­tion­al Black Film Fes­ti­val (Oct 2-8).

Ac­cord­ing to Bernard, “It will help to spread my mes­sage and in­spire oth­ers as I talk open­ly about re­cov­er­ing from this cheap re­al­i­ty show stunt, racial episodes in my past, and be­ing un­apolo­get­i­cal­ly black in a so­ci­ety that has Eu­ro­cen­tric stan­dards and ex­pec­ta­tions.”

Ques­tions sent to Fitzwilliam for com­ment yes­ter­day went unan­swered.