*Do you know who Atlanta, Georgia’s first black millionaire was? How about who Robert Abbott, founder of the newspaper, The Chicago Defender, used as reporters? Who patented the hot comb? (Hint: it was not Madame C.J. Walker.) Speaking of Madame CJ Walker, how did she make her fortune? Which black haircare products started out as black-owned and which ones never were? Why was there a ban on black barbers in Atlanta? The answers to these and so many other questions are answered in the documentary “No Lye: An American Beauty Story,” a very informative film on the history of the black haircare industry in America.
I was so rapt with attention the first time I saw the film that I did not take any notes; I just listened. Afterward, I realized I had received so much information that I could not harvest enough to adequately review the film, so I decided to watch it again. I retained enough information to start sharing what I learned with others. I was spouting all kinds of tidbits and then decided to stop since I want people to see the film for themselves. I decided to watch the film again and this time take notes and complete my review….finally.
“No Lye” covers the beauty industry, predominantly haircare, from the reconstruction era up until all of the originally black-owned businesses, be it strictly haircare, Jet and Ebony Magazines or Motown, were sold to non-blacks. It explains why the beauty industry was “recession-proof,” as well as what Caucasian men thought about barbers. It tells of the virtual snake oil that was being sold to blacks, before the first legitimate straightening products began to appear, as early as 1868. It moves through the black power movement of the 60s and 70s, the afros and dashikis’, including how the afro became a marketing tool and speaks to the struggle that black haircare founders faced when trying to hold on to the black haircare market in the wake of non-blacks infiltration.
“No Lye” mentions people you may or may not have heard of, like Barney Ford, Alonzo Herndon, Samuel B. Fuller, Garrett A. Morgan, George Johnson, Fred Luster, Edward Gardner, the Bronner Brothers, and John H. Johnson. It also shares the connection between Annie Malone and Madame CJ Walker and John H. Johnson and Samuel B. Fuller. Did you know John H. Johnson had a publication before Jet and Ebony magazines? Did you know George Johnson, a chemist, created the Ultra Sheen relaxer? Just a couple of the nuggets I learned that I thought I would share.
It is obvious that a lot of research went into making “No Lye.” It is well researched and is full of detail, some known and some unknown. Although it is a documentary, it was actually entertaining, especially with the music and television clips and read along with quotes and snippets. (Anything showing The Jackson 5 and Good Times is okay with me.) Even if you think you are a black haircare industry expert, I am convinced this documentary will tell you something you did not know. I certainly learned a lot.
I do not want to give away any more of the golden nuggets, so I will just say, check out “No Lye: An American Beauty Story.” I think you will find it as informative as I did.
The documentary began airing on public television in select cities beginning November 28 (check local listings) and is available to stream at www.BlockStarzTV.com. There will be an official public screening at the “Visions of the Black Experience” event in Sarasota, FL on December 5. (Website: http://visionsoftheblackexperience.com/)
The DVD will be released on February 28 and is currently available for pre-order on Amazon. (https://www.amazon.com/No-Lye-American-Beauty-Story/dp/B07ZLHWRH6/)
More dates/screenings will be added in the New Year, especially during Black History month, so any schools or libraries interested in organizing a showing may contact email@example.com
Marilyn Smith is a Los Angeles based writer/reviewer. Contact her via MzSportsJunkie@gmail.com