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 boredpanda.com 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.