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Nailed It is a Film About Why so Many Vietnamese have their Hands in the US Nail Industry

Marion Charatan

Posted on May 19, 2019 14:23

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The lovely actress/humanitarian Tippi Hedren was instrumental in training Vietnamese women to work as manicurists. Documentary filmmaker Adele Free Pham explains this phenomena in 'Nailed It.'

A documentary is out about the nail business. Who would have thought you could devote a whole film to manicures? But there's a lot more to it than just fingernails—the documentarist really gets her claws into thought- provoking issues. 

In Nailed It, director Adele Free Pham explores the history of Vietnamese American dominance in US nail salons. The filmmaker said, ”I also just always wondered why so many Vietnamese people were in the nail industry, to the point where my father, who is a Vietnamese refugee who came in 1975 — he wanted me to get into the nail industry as I was graduating high school as a side hustle, but also probably to retain my Vietnamese-ness.”

Apparently, it is an 8 billion dollar industry, so how did this all come about?

Pham learned that the actress/humanitarian Tippi Hedren mentored Vietnamese to get onto the nail band wagon. Back in 1975, the beautiful star of the classic Hitchcock film ‘The Birds’ ran a program to help 20 female Vietnamese refugees resettle in the US.

The asylum seekers told Hedren they loved her immaculate nails. The actress had an epiphany. She came up with the idea to have her personal manicurist Dusty Cootes teach the women in the Northern California camp everything she knew about nails – and groom them to do it in a Beverly Hills style. Pham said this was, in effect, the first licensing for manicuring alone. Previously, you had to be licensed for nails and hair together.

I met Tippi Hedren many years ago in Manhattan at an account executive trainee job I had. She was with her daughter Melanie Griffith (pre-Antonio Banderas). They were both perfectly stunning and really gracious. I remember thinking how well groomed Hedren was – so this bit of history on how she influenced the nail business did not surprise me.

The film also highlighted the ascent of many Vietnamese salons into black neighborhoods and the resulting intertwining of the cultures. Pham stated, “They brought the price down to a point where working-class women could afford this luxury and black women just brought an art to it, right?” The salons gave birth to financial independence and offered affordable pampering to all.

Pham also showed the downside of the industry: the hazards that come with it. She said there has not been a long-term study of health effects on workers – in spite of the fact they breathe in chemical fumes daily. Now, California nail salons are beginning to take employees’ health more seriously.

The film is based on a simple idea but is an intricate work that touches on race, class, art, and entrepreneurship, along with the legacy of Tippi Hedren and the impact the Vietnam War had decades later.

Nailed It premiered last week on PBS. It is available free online on the World Channel through July 6. I found the film touching and compelling. It's worth taking an hour to view it.

Marion Charatan

Posted on May 19, 2019 14:23

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