Alicia K. Harris knows that every black woman has a hair story, and she wants to share this collective experience with the world.

Through her upcoming short film PICK, the Toronto-based director, writer and co-founder of SUGAR GLASS FILMS is shedding light on the microaggressions and racism that many black women face in response to their natural hair textures.

“This film is for black women,” Harris tells me, matter-of-factly. “It’s outlining a problem and sharing an experience that’s so common for a lot of us that has not, in my opinion, adequately been covered in the media.”

The film tells the story of Alliyah, a fictional 11-year-old black girl who chooses to wear her Afro to school for the first time—coincidentally, on picture day—and is forced to deal with the subtle racist remarks she’s subjected to by her peers. After enduring a day full of microaggressions, when it comes time for her photo to be taken, she must decide whether she wants to wear her Afro or to pin up her hair.

“It’s all these little things that add up,” says Harris of the film. “I really don’t think people realize how often this stuff happens.”

She herself has a pretty good idea. While PICK is influenced by her personal struggle to embrace her natural hair, it’s also largely inspired by the many stories of young black women and girls who’ve been shamed or penalized because of their hair textures. In 2016 for example, a prominent girls’ high school in Pretoria made international headlines after its administration was found to have told black students that they needed to “fix” their hair, going so far as to impose a rule limiting cornrows, dreadlocks and braids. More recently and closer to home, an occasional teacher in Peel Region was investigated after she allegedly posted a picture to social media mocking a black student’s hair.

“Thinking about how much those situations are going to affect those children, it really just breaks my heart,” says Harris. “I don’t think people know how traumatizing that is; to be singled out in your class, in your school, to now be on the news because of your hair.”

It’s this very trauma that Harris hopes to portray through PICK. The film is deliberately void of any dramatic moments—“There’s no sad music, it’s not overdramatic!” she assures me—and instead builds on the many subtle comments that the main character hears as she goes about her day. A poignant example: one classmate’s comment to Alliyah that “black people can’t get lice,” because it’s “easier for lice to move through hair that’s smooth…and clean.”

Behind the scenes on the set of PICK. (Photo courtesy: Kurtis Chen)

With almost two years having passed since Harris first began writing the film’s script, PICK is the longest project Harris has ever done—and also the most emotionally difficult, she says.

“Man,” Harris begins, drawing the word out until it sounds much longer than just three words. “This wasn’t my most personal film, but it’s definitely the film that I poured so much of myself into over such a long period of time.”

Harris is no stranger to injecting her own experiences into her work. Her first film, Love Stinkswas a comedic coming-of-age story inspired by her own life. In her second film, Maybe if it were a Nice Room, Harris explores a series of empty rooms to retell her own traumatic rape. While both films were personal and emotionally charged, their production times were much shorter, allowing her time and space to heal as she needed. In the two years since she began writing PICK, she hasn’t been afforded this same luxury; on the inside, Harris’ struggle to embrace her natural hair raged on while on the outside, she found herself becoming more vocal about racism within a society that seemed to be growing increasingly intolerant of such discussions. Adding to that, PICK was expensive to make, requiring ongoing donations and fundraising support.

“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to make and arguably, the hardest thing I ever had to do in my life,” she says, adding that at one point, she had to take a six-month hiatus from the film. “There were many times when I thought I wouldn’t be able to finish it.”

But Harris is closer to the finish line now more than ever, and her dedication to the film already appears to be paying off. Recent media coverage has helped to spread the word about PICK and this month, SUGAR GLASS FILMS met its Kickstarter campaign goal of $20,000 to cover the film’s post-production costs and festival submission fees. More importantly, Harris says the film has been met with positive reviews from audiences during test screenings. Among black women in particular, PICK has been praised for capturing a moment that they’ve all experienced.

“That to me signals that I’m done, I did my job,” she tells me. “It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks about the film because that was my main goal.”

The creative team behind PICK, with Alicia K. Harris pictured far right. (Photo courtesy: Dominique Van Olm)

In addition to having the film screened at film festivals worldwide, Harris hopes to eventually have PICK shown at community and school screenings to educate children and youth about the impact of microaggressions. Until then, she hopes that young black women who experience hair discrimination can learn to embrace their beauty.

“Your hair is a big part of your identity and culture, but it does not define you,” she says. “You are special, different and unique, and that is never something you should be ashamed of.”

Post-production on PICK isn’t expected to wrap until at least August. Until then, we’ll just have to hold on to our edges and patiently wait our turn to see this film.

But that’s just According to Adrienne.

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