About Features Reviews Community Screenings Archives Studios Home
June 2006

The Devil Wears Prada

By Kam Williams


Distributor: Third Wave Media
Director: Aron Ranen
Running time: 60 minutes, plus a 13 minute update
Website: http://blackhairdvd.com/






Documentary Reveals Korean Domination of Black Hair Care Industry

African-Americans spend billions of dollars every year on their hair, whether on wigs and extensions, moisturizers and relaxers, curling irons and hot combs, sheens and gels, scalp and follicle conditioners, shampoos and lotions, or cocoa butter and other oils. In fact, although blacks comprise only 10% of the U.S. population, it is estimated that they consume over three-quarters of the country’s hair care products. Apparently, the untapped potential of this lucrative market was not lost on Koreans who, as far back as 1965, began petitioning both the United States and Korean governments for economic incentives to help them enter the lucrative hair care business. Over the intervening years, while most folks thought of these industrious immigrants as only operating fruit stands, they methodically set up shop right in virtually every ‘hood from coast to coast, gradually gaining control not only of the retail market, but the manufacturing and wholesale distribution as well. Who knew? As a consequence, the Black-Owned Beauty Supply Association (BOBSA) finds itself at the mercy of the Asian entrepreneurs, who now outnumber blacks in the business by about 10 to 1. For once the Koreans developed a monopoly, they reportedly began refusing to ship merchandise to any African-American stores, bankrupting most in the process.

And when no church, political, or grassroots movement was organized to challenge the ethics of the Koreans’ exclusionary and predatory practices, the situation deteriorated to the point where today 90% of the hair care stores are owned by outsiders who don’t live in, invest in or give back to the black community. This development is a tragedy, given the high unemployment rate in the ghetto which keeps the bulk of African-Americans in dire financial straits.

All of the above, plus plenty of additional equally informative and fascinating background material, is the subject of Black Hair, a disturbing documentary by Aron Ranen. To his credit, the peripatetic director did his homework, crisscrossing the country to interview both merchants and customers, and Koreans and blacks in such cities as Oakland, Dallas, San Francisco, Chicago, Atlanta, Houston, and Los Angeles. Invariably, he found the same sorry state of affairs everywhere he went, disgruntled and displaced African-American merchants, with well-to-do Koreans currently
catering to their former clientele.

A riveting, 21st Century microeconomics lesson in supply and demand, namely, Koreans control the supply, so they feel free to demand that blacks find
another line of work.