Refocusing The Lens
Many Jamaican immigrants have spent years juggling cultural integrity and assimilation as it is often difficult to show off their culture in an environment that might not always understand it. We have found ways to maintain and celebrate our identity through various means that capture the vastness of Jamaican culture, whether it be food, dance and/or outdoor music events, but for filmmaker Maya Annik Bedward, it’s through hair. It was through her father’s haircutting experiences that she was introduced to a small, yet vital, part of her own cultural pride that used hair as a catalyst for empowerment.
The Jamaican-Québecoise, Toronto-based filmmaker knows what it means to keep your cultural ties intact. While she explains that growing up in Ottawa had challenged the strength of these ties, keeping an even stronger relationship with her grandmother and father was how she kept herself in connection with her heritage.
Her most recent film The Haircut, a CBC Short Docs production that explores Black hair, shows how her Jamaican-born father and family navigated their new home. The Haircut sheds light on one’s man experience as a Jamaican migrant in his predominantly white, Catholic, Ottawa environment during the 1950s. The film offers a glimpse of how one grapples with whether or not to assimilate in Canada, but also explores how one Jamaican family has found ways to preserve and cherish culture outside of their homeland.
BASHY Magazine: What inspired you to get into filmmaking?
Maya Annik Bedward: I have always been passionate about it since I was young and watched films with my dad. I was afraid to pursue my passion but it wasn’t until after finishing university that I wanted to start a career in film. I had always been taking classes in the meantime but all it came down to was me finally taking a leap of faith.
Is there any Jamaican traditions that you hold dear to yourself?
We use food and language as common customs at home but besides that, my grandmother was someone I needed to have as representation. She taught me a lot about being confident in myself and carried a lot of old Jamaican traditions and customs that she would teach me. I never grew up in Jamaica and my father came here at an early age. While growing up in Ottawa, we were disconnected [from] a lot of Jamaican culture and my grandmother was the nucleus that kept us in touch with our customs.
How do you incorporate your heritage into your work?
Humour is a big thing in Jamaican culture. Often times we are typecast as comedians and I wanted to incorporate that one trait about my culture into my work. I wanted to show racial discrimination through the lens of something more humorous to reflect humour in our culture.
Why did you choose hair to be the focus of your film?
When I made this film I wanted to explain the journey of how immigrants like us grow up in this country. I had really curly hair and my mother had no clue of how to take care of it. I always remembered painful hair combing sessions and at times thought it was out of control and wanted to straighten and relax it instead. Eventually I grew to really love my hair the same way my father admired his own hair. He never pressured me to do anything with my hair but always taught me to love it and never conform to society standards.
How do you think Caribbean diaspora communities in Toronto can thrive?
There are a lot of communities that are supported by Toronto’s government while many Black Caribbean condensed areas are left overlooked. The city doesn’t always acknowledge the Black communities which leaves cultural hubs like Eglinton West undervalued and underappreciated. I think that once Toronto starts to put more efforts towards building more cultural pillars that revolve around Caribbean culture, progression might finally occur.
Why are Black Canadian communities your recent focus?
I feel like there are so many different people from the Caribbean in Toronto. We all have different histories and commonalities and I think that there’s so much more to learn about culture and my grandmother helped me open that world. Jamaica has a unique culture without a lot of nuances that we’ve only seen on the surface in Toronto while there’s still more to be discovered.
Photography by Khiry Cummings