One night, Scott Harris was walking down the street when two drunk women approached him. Harris recalled: "One of them turned to me and said, 'You know, you're quite sexy for a ginger.'"
Harris is a redhead. Really red. As one interviewee calls him in his new documentary, Being Ginger, "cartoon red." "I hate when I hear redheads trying to compare teasing to actual racism," Harris said, but there's a kind of low-grade mockery that every redhead deals with. Call it the Ron Weasley syndrome. "He's a dork. He's no good at magic, he's no good at school, he's no good with girls, he's no good with anything." In Being Ginger, Harris explores the trials and tribulations about being single and cinnamon in the face of all those cliches. For him, the story is "a romantic comedy. The film's not really about being a redhead. It's about being a bit different and having no self-confidence, and I think that's universal."
Harris has lived every minute of that mockery and self-doubt. A University of Texas film graduate and two-time Texas Filmmakers' Production Fund grant recipient, in 2009 he moved to Scotland to study documentary filmmaking at the Edinburgh College of Art. While he expected teasing in Texas (where gingers are a rarity), he was surprised to find the same snark in Edinburgh – the natural redhead capital of the world. Even there, the stereotyping continues. He said, "[Being ginger] is common enough, but still different enough, that it's become socially acceptable."
As his course ticked along, he had another problem – he hadn't started his required graduating project. "I only had a few months, and I'd shot nothing." One drunken Burns Night, he started sharing stories with his friends about having red hair and the inappropriate attitudes people have – like the woman who told him she loved her two children, even though they're ginger, or the guy who presumed Harris and a friend couldn't be on a date, because she was too good-looking to date a redhead. Immediately, his friends decided this should be his film. Just as quickly, he nixed the idea. "I didn't want to make a personal film," said Harris. "There are so many traps, where filmmakers think their story's unique and entertaining, and it's just not. I was also afraid that if I made a film about my hair, it would just come off as me complaining."
Yet the more he thought about it, the more he realized that his friends may have been right. He said: "I got teased and bullied as a kid, but most if it wasn't to do with my hair. It was just because of my hair I stood out." Even as an adult, the teasing still goes on, exemplified by the anecdotes he drunkenly shared with his friends. "I laugh at those stories," he said, "but there's still an edge to it." He thought about all the cliches about redheads being hotheaded or untrustworthy; all the people who told him they wouldn't date gingers, but they had lots of friends who would; and all the media stereotypes. "I saw a photo of six different TV shows, and in each case the best friend of the main character was an overweight redhead," he said. "That plays a role in people's perception. If you're constantly told that redheads are unattractive and goofy, then redheads become unattractive and goofy."
His original plan was a five-minute short about him trying and failing to interview people about how they felt about gingers. "Instead," he said, "the first woman I stopped was great, and it grew from there." Complete strangers were surprisingly blunt and unabashed about ginger-baiting, and so the planned five minutes of self-deprecation became a 24-minute short documentary. After it screened as part of his senior show, Harris realized there was a lot more story to tell, and so he turned the short into a full feature, editing in more of his misadventures in dating, as well as some of his more painful and personal experiences. Harris said, "Some people are confused about the more serious stuff, and I have to explain that even in the funniest comedies, you still have to have character development."
There's a flip side to the teasing. The global ginger community – and there is one – has been highly receptive, with screenings at the Irish Redhead Convention, and Roodharigendag, the world's biggest gathering of strawberry blonds and carrot tops. Being surrounded by fellow redheads has inspired thoughts of a sequel. This time, Harris said, he is thinking of "somewhere that is the polar opposite of Edinburgh, where I would be the only one, like rural Japan."
Being Ginger screens Monday, Jan. 13, 7:30pm, at AMC Barton Creek Square. The film is also available for download at www.beingginger.co.uk. Also catch Harris' Tales of Everyday Gingerism, animated by Cat Bruce, at www.beingginger.co.uk/tales-of-everyday-gingerism.
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