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CIFF 2020: Bad Hair & I Am Greta

October 26, 2020


As is often the case, this year there were films included on the Chicago International Film Festival (CIFF) line-up that also happened to be making their streaming debut during the run of the festival. In the past, films that were screened during the festival were also making their theatrical release at the same AMC theatre that housed the festival. That often made for a disappointing inclusion in the line-up since one would hope that a film festival would be the first time to see the films presented, but since CIFF is one of the last of the large film festivals before the year ends, it makes sense that this would happen with some of the films presented. That being said, things are different this year…

Instead of finding out that some of the films presented at CIFF were also getting their regular theatrical release at the same location, this year there’s some – at least two from my limited knowledge – that have a streaming release date of October 23rd on Hulu.

One is the latest from writer/director Justin Simien (“Dear White People”) and the other is a documentary on environmental activist Greta Thunberg – one is not so good and the other is good. Condensed reviews below…



BAD HAIR (2020)

Writer/director Justin Simien brought his last film, “Dear White People” to the small screen and many have been waiting for this feature-length follow-up and it may be quite surprising that it’s a horror flick. “Bad Hair” is an homage to some classic horror movies of the past (specifically that of the body horror variety) and it also wants to hold a mirror to societal behavior, like many movies of the genre have done. The big problem here is that as the story unfolds, the more predictable and ridiculous it gets, diluting any impact or potential the movie had.

Set in 1989 Los Angeles, the movie follows Anna Bludsoe (an engaging Ella Lorraine), an aspiring young woman who hopes to see her talent rewarded as an assistant at Culture, a music video company reminiscent of BETA back in the day. In this image-obsessed industry, Anna finds herself passed over by more outgoing and glamorous colleagues as her creative ideas get stolen by her superiors. Despite the support of her family, unfortunate circumstances start to pile up for Anna – at work she’s not only underpaid, she also has to hide her relationship with a popular VJ (Jay Pharaoh) and her sleazy landlord just increased her apartment $500. When her cutthroat boss (Vanessa Williams) refers her to a salon in order improve her overall look, suggested that would help fulfill her dreams of getting in front of the camera, Anna is shocked when she realizes that her painful weave has a mind of its own, craving blood in order to stay in place and keep heads turning.

“Bad Hair” has some interesting set-up to it, with witchcraft and slave folklore and the concept of how black women have to go out of their way, often experiencing pain, to make their hair beautiful. The topic of what black women have to do to their appearance in order to be noticed and achieve success (whether it’s 1989 or today) is a fascinating one to explore, but once Simien turns to b-movie shlock to propel the story, it gets unbelievably ridiculous, with laughable situations and over-the-top performances.

While there’s ambition to appreciate here, the overall delivery is just too distractingly laughable. Still, Ella Lorraine in the lead is definitely someone to watch. The movie is populated by supporting performances from the likes of Kelly Rowland, Usher, Lena Waithe, James Van Der Beek, Judith Scott, and Blair Underwood.





I AM GRETA (2020)

If you’ve been watching the news within the last five or so years, then you may have come across people talking about Greta Thunberg, the now-17-year-old Swedish environmental activist, who came came onto the scene when she skipped school at age 13 in an effort to promote the viewpoint that humanity is facing an existential crisis thanks to climate change. Of course, those who deny these views have criticized her and her family and any who agree with her, but who is this passionate teenager?

Nathan Grossman’s documentary “I Am Greta” is a straightforward look at Thunberg’s meteoric rise and there’s nothing wrong with that, especially for viewers who know nothing about the young woman. The Swedish director starts in 2018, when she started making news and building a following during her Friday climate strikes in Stockholm, which kicks off social media trends and soon she’s on the 24/7 news, making speaking appearances before world leaders. The highlight here is the behind-the-scenes footage Grossman captures, where we see the interaction between Thunberg and her family, (primarily her father) and how she isn’t that much different from any other girl her age who likes to dance and play with her pets. This approach humanizes the persona that many have of her, that of the angry outspoken girl and the more we learn about how her own views have changed her and her family’s lives (going vegetarian and refusing air travel), the more we understand how this indefatigable girl is determined to live out what she preaches.

There’s a moment included which shows Thunberg reading aloud the online criticisms point her way (many of whom attack her Asperger’s Syndrome), which she laughs off. We also see the emotional and physical toll it takes for her to cross the Atlantic on a wind-powered ship (accompanied by her father) to speak at the UN Climate Action Summit in New York City. Her speeches are biting and memorable, often leaving her visibly shook at how the right decisions are rarely made by the adults in charge. Through it all, “I Am Greta” confirms Thunberg as an inspiration and is a reaffirmation that there is hope for the future, regardless how cliche that sounds.



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