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The Law Was Against Her. So She Fought The Law.


Amber Starks styling hair, something she had to change Oregon state law to be allowed to do.

Amber Starks styling hair, something she had to change Oregon state law to be allowed to do.

Courtesy of Christian Henry

All Amber Starks wanted to do was braid hair for foster kids. How could she have known it was against the law? Turns out, it used to be illegal to style hair in the state of Oregon without a special cosmetology license.  

“I grew up braiding hair,” Starks said. “My hair, my brother’s hair, my friends’ hair — it was just part of me.”  

Starks learned that in order to donate her skills to braid the children’s hair, she needed a cosmetology license and 1,700 hours of training — most of it having nothing to do with the natural, African-American hair she’d be styling. This law struck her as profoundly unfair, so she decided to fight it.  

Starks brought her case to Salem and won. In June 2013, Oregon passed the Natural Hair Care Act, finally making it legal to braid and style natural hair. Starks began donating her skills to kids in the foster system. Seeing a need for natural hair styling in Portland, she also opened her own salon, Conscious Coils.

When filmmaker Christian Henry caught wind of what Starks was doing, she was immediately inspired.  

“I read about Amber’s legal fight and thought it would make a great documentary and something that more people should know has been accomplished,” Henry told OPB.  

But like many independent filmmakers, Henry also has a day job. Or in her case, a night job, producing the news.  

“At the time that I filmed [Starks], I was working a graveyard shift so I would film on my days off and in the mornings when I got off of work,” she said.

The result of Starks’s fight and Henry’s late nights can be seen in “From Salem to the Salon,” a documentary about how one Oregon woman fought the law and won.

OPB is pleased to present “From Salem to the Salon” as part of the 2016 Oregon Lens Film Festival, which showcases some of the best independent films in the Pacific Northwest.

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