The opening shot of 'The Fade' is a quote of an African proverb, "Even the high and noble bow before the barber". A fitting introduction and setting up for the next 76 minutes as we meet Offori 'Tupac' Mensah in Accra, Ghana, Johnny 'Cakes' Castellanos (otherwise known as 'Hollywood') in New Jersey, USA, Shawn Powis in Kingston, Jamaica and Faisal Abdu'Allah in London, UK. These four diverse individuals have their own colourful stories, based on their own situations, yet we as the viewer get to see the complete picture and cannot help but see the connection which runs through all 4 barbers, again going back to that relationship, that special bond which is made with the person whose head they are cutting.
Johnny 'Cakes' Castellanos is based in Englewood, New Jersey and is a local businessman with a popular 'head joint', the kind of place where all 'the fellas' hang out. He employs several barbers and is obviously on the up and up. A running joke in this community is his nickname, 'Hollywood'. Though he is called this name in jest, there is an undertone about it which he clearly does not like (or maybe in reality he does?). While Castellanos runs his own shop, he also has a very lucrative sideline, as 'barber to the hip hop superstars'. His high profile clients include Jay Z and Pharrell Williams. So on a regular basis he is nowhere to be seen as he is flying to various spots to give these celebs that much need hook up with his cutting tools. Indeed the documentary shows Pharrell, while getting a cut in Los Angeles, explaining that a week does not go by without Castellanos travelling to wherever to do his thing, and that includes shaving Pharrell's face!! 'Hollywood' sure knows how to play the game and says 'preception is everything' and you have to look the part to be involved. Taking great joy in making himself look sharp and even commenting on his watch, 'Hollywood' (who is also a family man) has his eyes on the glittering prize which is the 'American Dream' and believes you need to deliver that special service to achieve it. Once again the emphasis is on that connection with your client. What makes his story all the more interesting is the local reaction to his high flying exploits, brought to the fore by rapper Joe Budden telling him that guys around the way who would love a $10 haircut from 'Hollywood' know that will never happen EVER!!! Though Castellanos says this is not the case, you can't help but notice he wears that 'Hollywood' tag a little too often to really feel as uncomfortable as he makes out.
Jumping over to Kingston, Jamaica we meet Shawn Powis. This quiet unassuming man has built such a reputation as a barber, that just like his counterpart 'Hollywood', he is in high demand and has several high profile music biz folk on his client list, including dancehall superstar Elephant Man. Powis has no establishment to speak of. He literally is a barber on the go. He has his tools and his mode of transport and he travels up and down the island, day and night, any time, any where, which suits his high paying customers down to the ground.My admiration for Powis increased tenfold when I watched him display his expertise without the aid of a mirror! Rather than speaking to camera we see this Jamaican at work in his different surroundings, whether in a yard, a recording studio or by a swimming pool, delivering an array of hair styles and as we watch, we learn how strong a relationship is made by such a simple act.
Then there is Faisal Abdu'Allah. Another family man who own and runs his own barbershop in Harlesden, London. His 'down to earth' and straight thinking mentality of just doing right by everybody is embodied in his work ethic. He treats his shop as a spot where people can come and not only have their hair cut, but socialise and just talk literally about anything. Actually some of the conversations heard here are some of the most enlightening in the whole documentary. Faisal even takes time out to give worldly advice to his staff. He see the barber shop as a 'special area' where thoughts and feelings are allowed to flow freely and discussions are encouraged. All the while heads are being cut. I believe this fuels his other passion, which is being an artist. Not just a casual whim, we actually see him present an art exhibition of all his own work (various photographs and pieces) in Sapin. This deep thinker has a soul. He too counts famous fames among his customers, including UK actors David Harewood (from the Emmy Award winning US TV drama 'Homeland') and Adrian Lester.
Mundy-Castle has assembled a wonderful film filled with heart, emotion, fascinating dialogue and heart warming interaction, in other words, a typical trip to the barber shop, wherever it may be. He has captured that essence of it being powerful enough a place to put everyone on a same level, as is shown in that African proverb. Without question there is a level of respect and trust shown to all the barbers which is contained in that largely unspoken relationship.In truth the barbershop, whether in a shop or elsewhere is hallowed ground. A place where you can freely speak your mind. I suppose it was best summed up in the film by Pharrell who said the barbershop is like the 'Hood Twitter'. Ain't that the truth!! 'The Fade' deserves to be seen by as wide an audience as possible. If it comes your way, take that trip to the barbershop, you won't be disappointed.