Love, Locs, and Liberation - An Interview with the Author

 

An author, activist, poet, actor, and film-maker, the multi-talented Ella Turenne has already left her mark in most aspects of media. In 2004, she published her first book, “Revolution|revolisyon|revolution 1804-2004: An Artistic Commemoration of the Haitian Revolution.” Her first short film, “Woodshed,” was nominated for best short at the Montreal International Black Film Festival. Her play “Gray” premiered in the Harlem Heritage Fringe Festival in 2009. Ms. Turenne is on the Executive Steering Committee of the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program, an active member of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., and co-founder of SistaPAC Productions, a group focused on developing original creative works from women of color.

 

 In the midst of all her involving and exciting projects, Ms. Turenne authored her autobiographical, solo- performer (who plays multiple roles) presentation, LOVE, LOCS, and LIBERATION.  Her interview sheds light on the motivations and concerns which led to this piece, as well as her hope that this show will have a positive influence on the future of young black women.

 

 

 

When, where, and why did you decide to write this piece?

 

 Turenne: I started it in earnest five or six years ago. There was a documentary on HBO called “The Black List.” Black celebrities were asked to tell their stories. Then HBO had a competition about telling your story before the second part of the show and asked for submissions on line. I submitted about my hair, and I was one of the five who were selected. When I got to tell my story in the documentary, it crystalized my thoughts and made me want to write down more stories. Later I was on HBO in a separate segment and had another chance to tell my story.

 

 Who said that hair defines black women anyway?

 

 Turenne: It’s definitely a sentiment among black women. I remember watching Chris Rock talking about his curiosity when his daughter asked about her hair.  At the end of his comments, it seemed that black women might be obsessed with hair. Anyway, this is what people think of us. Because of that, I felt the need to tell this story from our perspective. A lot of people were commenting on our hair. Sometimes it was positive, and sometimes it was negative. Recently, there were comments about Zendaya’s hair. She had faux locks, and some people made negative comments about it.

 

 What are some of the rituals and stories that black women believe relative to their hair?

 

 Turenne: I think that the rituals are about the very intimate moments between mother and daughter. People want to touch hair, and touching hair means something important. Maybe they sit on the floor, and her mom does her hair. And while they’re doing that, they talk about life. And they get to spend time with each other, to get advice, to be schooled by an elder. And they learn how to take care of their hair. There are also rituals about coming of age, like the first time your hair is straightened - or when you chop all your hair off. It symbolizes important events in your life. Cutting off your hair is like going back to your roots, embracing being natural.

 

 How is your poetry woven into this production? What about song?

 

 Turenne: Poetry begins and ends the show. My opening poem sets the stage, asks the questions. A poem is my way of pulling out certain ideas in the play for the audience. The poem that ends the show tells what has happened during the journey and where it leaves us now. 

 

 Music is a critical part of my life, and that makes music a critical part of the play. It gives a sense of the time I’m in. In the show, I sing a couple of pieces. These are songs related to hair; the songs get at people’s feelings about hair, rather than me just telling them about hair.

 

 Are there any other issues which you feel define black women besides hair?

 

 Turenne: I think that persistence and perseverance also define black women. So many black women have those qualities. I admire those women who have been successful and continue to move forward regardless of the circumstances. Even though the circumstances that black women face may be circumstances other women don’t face, there are lots of similarities. But one thing you can’t ignore is race, which is an aspect that’s more challenging in this country. Even with another election around the corner, two terms later there’s still some Obama tension. Look at Michelle Obama as the first lady with problems that other first ladies didn’t have to endure. For example, a cartoon of Michelle Obama was on the cover of The New Yorker magazine with her hair in an afro. That wouldn’t have happened with other first ladies. Race is a critical issue in this country.

 

 How are hair and liberation tied together?

 

 Turenne: I had my locks for ten years, and I cut them off last year. It was a hard decision to make because I loved having locks. A lot had happened in those ten years. It took a long time to decide to cut my hair. When I finally did it, I did feel liberated. I felt free because all your experiences and the energy around you gets trapped in your locks. When I cut them off, I let go of all that. It was a time of rebirth and renewal.

 

 Do you think any of these issues could relate to women of any color?

 

 Turenne: Absolutely. As I talk to women about this, I find similar experiences from women of all ethnicities. Hair is a big thing for all women. I wanted to show that it was universal. There are common experiences about hair and beauty and identity. The media has co-opted these ideas and created their own standards, which they push out to the public - maybe too much.

 

 What defines you at this stage of your life?

 

 Turenne: That’s a good question. I think that passion defines me. I introduce myself as a champion of freedom, justice, and expression. My core values define me, and even the way I dress tells something about me. What my hair looks like shows the most authentic person I can be. I hope that if I offer my most authentic self, it can be the impetus for other people to be their most authentic self.

 

 One of the groups I most want to engage as partners in the show are young women. People want to be entertained, and through that I want to share with young women the kinds of things I went through. I was bullied for my hair when I was younger, so it took a long time to get to this point where I am completely in love with my hair. I want to have a conversation with young women. I want to get them to the point where the most important thing about hair isn’t the style but a sense of who you are. You don’t need to emulate others. I think about my mother and me. She is biracial, and when I was little I wanted hair like hers, long and wavy. Searching for my own identity helped me love her hair and mine at the same time. You need to find yourself and be yourself.

 

 

 

LOVE, LOCS, AND LIBERATION opens at 7:30 p.m. on October 20 (talkback and reception to follow performance) and continues on October 21, 22, 27, 28, and 29, 2015, at The Speakeasy in the Atwater Village Theatre complex, 3269 Casitas Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90039. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased at [email protected].

 

 

 

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