Viet Voice

Short Film About a Vietnamese Hair Salon

by Kimberly Pham | November 21, 2011 | Bookmark +

Last April, I wrote about a film that took place in a Vietnamese nail salon.

Here’s another movie, this time featuring a Vietnamese hair salon. Written and directed by Caroline Le, La Petite Salon takes place in Little Saigon and follows Quynh, a young Vietnamese American woman who works at her mother’s hair salon. Shown above is the trailer for her short film.

Le’s inspiration for creating La Petite Salon came from a short story that was published in the Silicon Valley De-Bug journal in 2003. “Huong Nguyen’s short story, ‘At Ma’s Salon’, inspired me to develop a short screenplay based loosely on the characters and conversations seen and heard in a hair salon. After visiting La Petite Salon, I was ignited by the surroundings — the wall palette, the furniture materials, and the exclusive location,” Le says. “La Petite Salon is a reflection of my connection with the Vietnamese community. In turn, the project conveys the complexities and the struggles of Vietnamese Americans who are negotiating between two different cultures, sometimes at odds with each other, sometimes opposite, but always challenging.”

Le hopes that La Petite Salon will reach out to those who understand and/or have experienced cross cultural issues within a marginalized community. “Individuals who have double and triple minority status and can acknowledge and be accepted for each of their identities as lesbian, bisexual, gay, trans, or queer, as Asian American, and as women or men,” Le says.

During one conversation in the film, a woman brings up a news story about a human trafficking bust in a nail salon. I was surprised to hear this in the dialogue since we recently featured an article exposing human trafficking in nail salons. Le says that a majority of the topics that the characters discuss are relevant to the news and stories she would hear about in the San Jose community. “Human trafficking continues to be prevalent internationally and domestically. The significance of shedding light on this topic in my film was to explore how we view our culture, values and beliefs, and how we as individuals can easily exploit our own community members for monetary gains,” Le says.

After watching both La Petite Salon and Touch, some things stand out between the Vietnamese hair salon and nail salon, namely, the clientele who frequent each salon. Hair salons within Vietnamese-populated communities tend to have Vietnamese clients. The majority of clients at most nail salons are generally non-Vietnamese (possibly due to the fact that since so many Vietnamese do nails, the running joke is that everyone has someone in the family who does nails). In one of the opening scenes in Minh Nguyen’s film Touch, his characters poke fun at the stereotype that Vietnamese nail techs talk about their non-Vietnamese clients in Vietnamese. There is a disconnect between the film’s salon workers and their clients. In reality, although there may be some badmouthing within nail salons about their clients (Vietnamese-owned or not), I think the conversations that take place in La Petite Salon are more real and relate closely to what Vietnamese nail salon women actually chat about.

Within La Petite Salon, there is an intimate space for everyone who enters, where stories and ideas can be freely expressed and shared, for all except for the main character. “Despite the sanctity of the salon, Mai, the salon owner, has been unable to create a refuge for her daughter, Quynh,” Le says.

The short film was filmed at Mitri Hair Salon in Santa Clara. With the help of production designer Alison Katinger and her team, the mirrors, hair stations, and backroom were modified to create a “more intimate and solitary environment” for the story. Hair stylist Carmela Bearchild and make-up artist Christine Do lended their talents to the hairdressers and their clients.

When asked about the importance of telling this story, Le says, “La Petite Salon represents the cultural identities of lesbian Asian Americans, but also address the misconceptions of homophobia in the Asian American community. The film deals equally with the importance of family and with the development of an Asian American queer identity. Similar to The Wedding Banquet and Saving Face, which addresses the existence of a community within a community and the generational conflict between first generation parents and their American-born second-generation children, La Petite Salon bridges the contrasting perspectives encountered by the mother and daughter and stresses the importance of the nuclear family.”

Le currently works for the Queer Women of Color Media Arts Project (QWOCMAP) as a teaching assistant and program assistant and hopes to finish her first feature-length script to produce in the near future.

— Kim
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