Interview with Mario Morin: “I wanted to show that our common humanity overrides our differences”

Mario Morin is a highly skilled director, whose film Sacred Hair (Cheveux Sacrés) has become eligible to be considered for a 2019 Oscar. Sacred Hair is truly exceptional, an important film that we all need to see which sends out a worthy message. We had the chance to have a chat with him, discussing why he wanted to tell this type of story, why it is important for religions and beliefs to be talked about in films and what he wished he learned as a child.

Why did you want to tell this story? And why base it in Canada?

I want to tell stories that inspire the world. With Sacred Hair I wanted to open peoples’ minds to the value of diversity, to nurture their curiosity towards cultures they don’t know and the unknown in general. It really could have been based anywhere. It was just natural for me to do so in my hometown, and budget-wise, the most convenient – we filmed 2 miles from my residence, and the subject of diversity is more and more in the forefront here in Canada as it is in the United States.

What was your goal for Sacred Hair? What did you want to achieve?   

I wanted to show that our common humanity overrides our differences.

What is your religious background? Why is it important to talk about religion and beliefs in this film?

My grandparents were very faithful Catholics, so I was raised Catholic too. My family’s practice slowly faded although I know my mom has kept her faith and recently rediscovered the richness of the Bible. I believe, like Carl Jung, that all religions are fundamentally good but I follow more the principles of Buddha.  Although there are many religious representations shown on the surface of Sacred Hair, the film is much more about customs and values and belief systems, rather than religion per se. The religious piece is a pretext to show another face of differences. No matter your beliefs or values, the essence of who we are is the same.

Why did you choose this age as a characteristic for Arthur?

I wanted a good enough dose of innocence without too much baggage. For me, it’s an age where you still haven’t experienced a great deal of deception or hurt, and your reflex for self-protection hasn’t yet taken a front row seat in your psyche.  I also recall starting to be very curious about other people at that age. Too young and you’re unable to articulate the questions; too old, the greater the chance prejudices have begun to set in.

Do you think without Arthur’s characteristics that the message would have been the same?

No, it would have been different. A different story would have been told. I think we empathize and connect more easily with those who’ve gone through the same types of adversity.  Certainly, Arthur’s innocence provided him the curiosity to validate if the Muslim woman was the same as him, meaning did she have hair under her scarf [spoiler alert]. The fact that his baldness made him subject to being ostracized at school also created a connection between them.

Do you think many children are growing up misinformed about the differences in culture, religion, color, race, ethnicity etc.?

Yes. As shown in Sacred Hair, adults tend to pass on their knowledge and values with the aim of educating and protecting their children. But they tend to transfer their prejudices and fears as well, as do our friends. And everybody forms biases throughout their life. The importance rests in recognizing what they are, how they came about and re-questioning them with the awareness that they stand to gain a great deal by opening up to what they don’t yet know.

If Mounia was swapped out for a different ethnicity, race, religion, would this story still have the same message?

The story might have been adjusted and nuanced to fit the different circumstances, but the story and the message would have been similar.

If you could send a message to the children being brought up in this world filled with hatred towards certain groups of people, what would your message be to them?

My answer is two-fold:

Don’t walk through life with blind faith. Re-question what you know, or think you know, about the world and the people in it, being careful of the “mean meaning machine” mechanism that we humans tend to unconsciously apply to our experience of the world. 

And apply yourself every day to the act of loving yourself. Face your beauty and your darkness. Ultimately, learning to love yourself unconditionally will help you manifest less hatred toward other people. We’re subject to a lot of conditioning and we lose sight of who we are, and the wonderful difference we can each make in the world. 

If there were something you wish you had learned as a child, what would it be?

I wish I’d learned the limitlessness of my potential; that the only obstacle in the way of obtaining my aspirations is me and my limiting thoughts.

Who does Arthur’s mother symbolize?

She symbolizes society’s tendency towards ambivalence, suspicion, and judgment without taking the time to validate the veracity of those suspicions and judgments, which creates beliefs that are not founded in reality. 

What are the themes to Sacred Hair?

The main themes are the appreciation of different beliefs and values, the richness of diversity, the dictates of beauty, the importance of embracing equality.

Are you working on any other projects?

Several projects are in progress right now including another short film. But it’s a little bit early to share details of these projects that are still in their initial developmental stages. 

Sacred Hair – Teaser (Cheveux sacrés – Bande annonce) from mariooo on Vimeo.

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