A young Black professional, Sydney, runs into her ex one morning on her way to a new job. While she knows she should just move on, she can’t help but ask just why he wanted to break up.
His answer is unexpected, brutal and discombobulating — so much so that it sends her spinning, and she discovers there’s a set of deeper wounds in her life that she needs to work out.
Written by lead actor Aisha Evelyna and directed by Isa Benn, this poetic, introspective drama short takes a style of filmmaking — a kind of melancholic indie urban romanticism perfected by filmmakers like Sofia Coppola, for example — and uses it to portray an experience and set of concerns specific to Black women, with beautiful, heartfelt results.
It has the hallmark beautifully moody, gauzy cinematography and handheld camerawork that is simultaneously intimate, artful and graceful. It’s also focused on the internal world of its main character, juxtaposing moments of introspection with scenes of awkward, vulnerable dialogue.
But the story revolves around the impact of Sydney’s hair on her life and her intimate life, a domain that encompasses not just her relationships, but her sense of self and worth. Hair for Black women carries intense psychological and social weight, and the film’s narrative revolves around Sydney’s history with her hair, toggling between her past and the way it impacts her present.
The scenes move between past and present, as Sydney runs into an ex, who explains her complicated relationship with her hair was a factor in their breakup. But it also delves into moments in the past, such as when a young Sydney receives a dose of self-love around her hair’s beauty, but also her mother’s exasperation with it.
When woven between moments of her co-workers’ insensitive comments around her hair, viewers begin to get glimmers of understanding of just why hair is such a loaded topic for Black women, in a way that it often isn’t for other races — and how deeply it seeps into their sense of self-love and affects their most intimate, emotional moments. When Sydney starts to explain this to her ex, both she and the audience come to a moment of illumination — one that may light the way forward out of a dark place in Sydney’s life.
“Shoegazer” ends with a dangling sense of uncertainty, and the biggest quibble may be that viewers will want to know more about how Sydney takes her insight and puts it into action in her life. But the film’s arc of confusion into clarity is fulfilled, and more importantly, offers an immediate emotional journey that viewers can experience on a subject that may seem abstract at first.
Like Sydney in “Shoegazer,” many are on a journey towards more self-love, and for many, the obstacles often involve learning acceptance and celebration of aspects of the self that are often ignored — or, like many Black women’s hair — casually but brutally denigrated by society at large. Like Sydney, we have to learn to tune out the noise of the outside world by calling it out and then rebuilding something new — and then tune into the loving voices within.