St. Clair Detrick-Jules is a DC native and a local documentary director whose work includes the 2017 immigration film DACAmented. She’s also a big sister, and it’s that role that inspired her latest project, a photo book called My Beautiful Black Hair: 101 Natural Hair Stories From the Sisterhood.
You’re primarily a filmmaker. What led to this book?
When my little sister was four years old, she started hating her Afro because her majority-white classmates were making fun of her hair. I was really angry—I was upset, I was hurt. I thought back to the time when I didn’t like my natural hair, either. I decided I wanted to do a project to help Khloe embrace her hair. The more it evolved, I realized I wanted to make something she could hold—something that contained the beauty of Black women.
How did you find women to photograph?
I started with the people who were least likely to reject me, like my friends and Black women I knew from high school and college. My mom is a professor at UDC, so she recruited some of her students. And then I reached out to women through Instagram. A lot of them ended up saying yes even though they didn’t know my sister. That’s a testament to the strength of Black women and to our sisterhood and determination to uplift one another.
There’s a national movement to pass laws preventing discrimination due to hairstyles associated with specific races or nationalities. Your book seems like a kind of artistic complement to that.
I want my book to show how serious this issue is. For a lot of non-Black people, it can be difficult to understand the weight that our hair holds for us, to understand the trauma that comes with constantly being told that our natural hair isn’t good enough. On the one hand, I get it: It’s just hair. But every Black woman has a hair story. For a lot of us, there’s a lot of pain involved.
Khloe is now eight. What was her reaction to the book?
She lives in France, so I wasn’t able to hand-deliver it like I wanted to. But I sent it to her in the mail, and my dad and stepmom sent a video of her opening it. She gets really excited, takes a copy, and runs away. And then she comes back and grabs the whole box of ten books and carries it off, saying, “Thank you, I love you, I adore you.” We spent several days going through the book together, reading it and looking at the pictures. Every time we turned the page—me looking at my copy here and her in France—she would gasp and say, “Oh, she’s so beautiful!”
This article appears in the September 2021 issue of Washingtonian.