Happy to be Nappy, a music video created by a class of University of Miami School of Communication graduate students, is exactly what it sounds like. It’s uplifting. It’s empowering. It’s a piece of film that embraces, with open and grooving arms, black culture—and specifically black hair.

When Ed Talavera, associate professor in the Department of Cinema and Interactive Media, assigned a project to his students, neither him nor his class could have foreseen its success.

“First-year graduate students must make a music video with a local Miami music group as an assignment for my cinematography course,” said Talavera. “Working with local music artist Alana DaCosta, they created a wonderful music video.”

Happy to be Nappy won the Lynn & Louis Wolfson II Family Foundation Best Student Film Using Archival Footage From Wolfson Archives category at this year’s Miami Film Festival CinemaSlam competition.

CinemaSlam is an annual competition for South Florida college students to showcase their best cinematic work, but what makes the category Happy to be Nappy entered different is its emphasis on the use of archival materials in film production. Talavera’s students combined archival footage with their own videography of DaCosta and other locals to create the video.

DaCosta, local singer/songwriter and artist at Sailboat Bend Artist Lofts, really is a triple threat. She can sing. She can dance. She can write. And she can flaunt her hair, proudly, all at the same time.

One of his students’ biggest struggles, Talavera said, was finding an ensemble of local black Miamians willing to dance, act, and strut their hairstyles behind DaCosta’s killer vocal performance. Recruiting and coordinating these dancers was the job of Happy to be Nappy’s producer and second-year graduate student Cathleen Dean. 

Dean continued to find inspiration throughout the production of the video, recalling she was intrigued by an interview with James Baldwin, an American playwright and novelist who touched upon topics like race and class hierarchy. “A light bulb went off, and I thought, ‘we have to use this footage in the Happy to be Nappy music video,’” Dean said. 

According to Talavera, Dean and Happy to be Nappy’s director Xiao Che, a visiting scholar from China, spearheaded the project together, birthing the concept and leading the team of MFAs through the time-consuming and creative project. Cedric Livingston, another second-year graduate student, edited the video post-production. 

“Since I was new in cinematography, and our equipment room did not have a monitor, I had a hard time focusing in the strong sunshine and using the right lenses, shutter speed, aperture and ISO,” Che said.

For Dean and Che, the award at CinemaSlam meant that their topic and newly-learned film skills were among the best in South Florida. It validated not only their hard work, but their innate talent.

“To have won the award for best use of Archival Footage at the CinemaSlam competition meant a lot to us,” Dean said. “Often in film school you become the writer, director, producer and every other position on your film that you can’t fill. But to bring a team together that has passion and talent and no ego issues takes your creativity to the next level.”

Happy to be Nappy was Che’s very first film, and she said the win gave her the encouragement she needed to follow her passion.

Thanks to Talavera’s assignment, the Wolfson archives, and a highly synergetic group of creatives, Happy to be Nappy not only gave us a chance to dance along, but it also confirmed the career goals of these eager graduate students.  

Visit https://vimeo.com/298764890 to view the Happy to be Nappy music video.