A Love Letter To Hair On The Cape Flats
Updated: Nov 4, 2021
Best Actress SAFTA award winner for her role in the feature film Forgiveness, Quanita Adams has gone behind the camera screenwriting and directing Swirl – a love letter to hair, particularly hair on the Cape Flats.
“I remember once having to tell someone to stop patting my hair; it’s not a dog!” recalls Quanita Adams. “It’s everything from exhausting to frustrating to boring. Over the years I've learnt to deal with these incidences, and now I get to create work about it.”
Her filmmaking debut, Swirl, which aired exclusively on Sunday, 21 March on DStv’s kykNET&kie, is a love letter to hair. Even though it tells one young woman’s story, really it’s everyone’s story. It’s about our grandmothers, mothers and daughters. It explores ideas around “good” hair and looking “decent”.
Motivated by her frustrations with her own hair at an early age, Elaine Williams (the main character) sets about building for herself what ultimately becomes an illustrious career doing for others what she had to do unto herself – keep her hair in submission. After being turfed out of RAVEN, famed hair salon and college, Elaine has to do everything to make ends meet as her dreams of owning her own hair salon are all but disappearing.
The stress of mounting pressure takes its toll on her and that’s not the only thing disappearing. She finds herself having to make a difficult choice. As trends in haircare sees a dramatic shift towards embracing natural hair, Elaine is drawn to this new wave. Yet, moving forward will still be challenging. Will she continue on this new path, even if it potentially means turning her back on her dream?
Quanita has been in the performance industry for over 20 years, performing on both stage and screen. She counts herself privileged to have been able to travel the world and garner a few awards – all thanks to her work and talents. “My latest film, Barakat, has been scooping awards internationally. I’ve also been in numerous television shows including Sara Se Geheim and, most recently, Arendsvlei. The last few years has seen me shift my focus to writing primarily for television and now with Swirl, screenwriting and directing, too. What a ride it’s been!”
While Swirl is not autobiographical, Quanita admits to similarities within the movie loosely based on her own hair experiences. “Each character has a different perspective and I really wanted to be able to explore the various issues surrounding hair, in all its stages and forms. While I can’t think of one particular incident where I was made to feel inadequate – certainly not to the extent we have seen where learners are still humiliated because of their hair – I’ve had to deal with various judgements, micro aggressions, ignorance, insults and curiosities.”
Swirl took a few months to complete from start to finish, although between having a baby during lockdown and trying to get this movie off the ground, Quanita has lost track of the exact time period. “It was incredible and terrifying at the same time. To always have been in front of the camera was one thing, but to move behind it was daunting. Even as an actor I was interested in the more technical elements of shooting, but it wasn't until I had to direct that I began to realise how little I knew,” she confesses.
Fortunately, she was surrounded by an incredible crew. The production company, Nagvlug Films, supported Quanita and ensured the team comprised some of the best practitioners and technical staff, notably Director of Photography Ebrahim Hajee. “Every person on that set was incredible. Writing the script, I had specific actors in mind, their voices in my head. Directing some of South Africa’s performance icons and legends was a huge deal for me. This was a dream team.”
The cast includes Chanelle Davids, Vinette Ebrahim, Shaleen Surtie Richards, Ilse Klink, Bianca Flanders, Basil Appollis, Maurice Carpede, Veronique Jepthas, Khadija Heeger, Gerwen Simon, Celeste Matthew-Wannenburgh and Aisha Nel.
And if writing and directing isn’t stressful enough, Quanita also had the crazy idea to sing the movie’s theme song, She’s A Girl. “It was a mad idea that the producers got behind and let me run with. I approached my dear friend Dr Marc Hendricks, a singer/songwriter who agreed to write the song. He wrote it overnight. I chatted to him about some ideas from the movie and the next morning I awoke to a voice note from him singing the song, complete with sheet music. He then got Amanda Tiffin (whom I adore!) to accompany me on piano. We recorded the track on a Saturday morning at Milestones Studios in Cape Town. And what a gorgeous track it is,” she says proudly.
Through this movie, all Quanita wants is for audiences to be entertained and moved to laughter and tears. “It’s not a documentary or a diversity training video. I’m not trying to educate or finger wag,” she says. “But if it gets people to consider things differently, then I’ve achieved something. Based on the responses and comments so far, the movie has resonated with people. I just want people to feel seen. Celebrated. I also want to give people pause to think critically… after the laughter dies down and the tear has dried.”
Follow Quanita on Instagram @quanitadams
Swirl is part of the kykNET and M-Net television film project. If you missed the initial screening, catch it on Showmax.