By Stina Chyn | September 24, 2003

The American government issues census forms every ten years as a means to gather demographic information. The report ascertains data regarding the distribution of populations according to gender, ethnicity, socio-economic status, education level, marital status, occupation et al. While the census yields valuable statistical facts about Americans, does it capture who these people are? Margaret Broucek seeks to answer this question in her short film “Beauty Parlor Census.” Much of the twenty minute-long film takes place inside a Missouri beauty parlor run by Julio (Juan Luis Acevedo) and Joan (Sheila Stasack). The viewer is immediately acquainted with the salon’s regular patrons: Belle (Muriel Gould), Leila (Laurie Gould), and Flossie (Mara Clark).
From the dialogue, the viewer learns that these elderly women (and 15% of women in general) send letters along with their completed census forms to the government. The reason? Boxes checked off under “white” and “female” do not provide meaningful enough information. They’re markers of an identity and nothing more. In commenting on the highly impersonal quality of the census, the film devotes an entire conversation to questions that the government should be asking. For instance, the women think the questions ought to inquire if you smoke and why; if you’ve ever beaten anyone; and if anyone was upset when you married your spouse. Some suggestions are a bit silly, but others are serious. If you were in their positions, you’d also wonder how to answer how many people are in your household when several of them have died.
In terms of narrative, the film is about the US census, but that’s only on the surface. “Beauty Parlor Census” is really a look at elderly women. Broucek’s film portrays them as pre-occupied with death, very particular about everything, prone to gossip, and adamant that they’re still physically and mentally capable. Belle, Leila, and Flossie write letters to add a proverbial face to their names, but it’s also an attempt to share their stories with an audience they believe will listen. “Beauty Parlor Census” may win points for originality, but muffled audio and lines that sound too rehearsed detract from an otherwise well-conceived allegory.

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