What, at first glance, may seem like a senior citizen’s decorative hat collection try-on haul video, is actually so much more. Pratt in the Hat (2021), directed by Susan Hillary, is a beautiful, 14-minute documentary about the inspiring, service-oriented life of Dr. Frances Pratt (otherwise known as Dr. Hat, Hat Frat, and the Pratt in the Hat), who is as poised and charming as her 100+ flowered, feathered, lacy, sequin-covered, rhinestone-covered hats that come in every color. Dr. Pratt is the President of Nyack’s chapter of the NAACP and she is the first black, head nurse of the Nyack Hospital Emergency Room. In this documentary, Dr. Pratt tells us about the importance of solidarity, education, voting rights, and, subliminally, fashion as we admire lovely, still photographs (taken by Susan Hillary, Dorice Arden, and Joe Zakko) of Dr. Pratt in her hats and matching outfits.
Dr. Pratt was born May 13, 1934 in South Carolina, and lived through periods of extreme racial injustice. She explains that during segregation, the only place black women could “be themselves”, “dress up”, and express their beauty was in the church. We see black-and-white photo inserts of joyful black women sporting extravagant hats in churches. To Dr. Pratt, these hats now “represent dignity.” Outside of the church, Black Americans were subject to extreme violence and discrimination. The daughter of a sharecropper and a domestic servant, a young Pratt often watched her mother get degraded and teased by the white folks for whom she did laundry. “We had no privileges that a white person would respect,” Dr. Pratt says.
At the age of 12, Dr. Pratt decided she wanted to get involved in civil rights, after being discriminated against at an ice cream parlor in Raleigh, North Carolina. The ice cream parlor employee told Pratt and her mother that they could not eat ice cream on the shop’s property. Dr. Pratt then watched her mother nervously shake while eating the ice cream elsewhere. Her mother advised her to not tell her brother about the mistreatment they endured at the ice cream parlor because he might come to the store and stand up to the white employees, saying something that would get him in trouble or, even worse, get him killed (fears we’ve seen actualized in similar cases like that of Elijah McClain in 2019, George Floyd in 2020, and unfortunately many more).
Years later, Dr. Pratt was nominated to be Nyack’s NAACP President, an opportunity that would allow her to help fight against segregation and racial inequality. We see a photo montage from different periods of Dr. Pratt’s life of her accepting awards and sitting at banquet halls, as well as newspaper clippings and certificates with Dr. Pratt’s name on them (one of which was co-signed by civil rights activist Rosa Parks).
Dr. Pratt explains that to combat injustices, we must be properly educated. Education is important, especially during formative years, to help children develop a strong sense of self and build positive self- esteem. She believes that parents have a duty to teach their children how to think and be socially conscious. This education has to continue in school, rather than begin in school. Dr. Pratt says, “Voter registration is the most important thing that anyone can be a part of'' and that high schoolers should learn about the importance of voting at home and in school.
Dr. Pratt believes that if we all work together, racism can eventually be abolished. She says that even though there are socioeconomic struggles for people of color in the United States right now, people [of color] must take advantage of opportunities and create new opportunities for themselves when possible.
The Pratt In The Hat screens at the Spring 2023 New Jersey Film Festival on Saturday, January 28 as part of the Short Program #1. The films will be Online for 24 Hours and In-Person at 5PM in Voorhees Hall #105/Rutgers University, 71 Hamilton Street, New Brunswick, NJ.
To buy tickets go here.
For General Info on the Film Festival go here: https://newjerseyfilmfestivalspring2023.eventive.org/welcome
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