New Doc Peeks Inside Nail Salons’ Booming Business

By N. Jamiyla Chisholm May 06, 2019

How did nail salons, which are dominated by Vietnamese Americans, become an $8.5 billion industry, according to Nails Magazine’s 2017 market research survey? Who were the 20 Vietnamese refugee women who revolutionized the industry? And what influence did Mantrap, the first nail salon co-owned by Black and Vietnamese women in the 1980s, per UCLA Labor Center, have on trends across the country? The new documentary “Nailed It” will answer those questions and more when it premieres tomorrow (May 7).

Filmmaker Adele Free Pham, who is Vietnamese and White, tackles the history, evolution and controversies of the business via archival images, animation and stories gathered from people with inside knowledge of the nail industry and the customers who frequent it. One of “the first 20,” as the original women are called, who is interviewed, recounts the chaos in Vietnam as she fled the country during the war with her two children. There’s also a lawyer who helps run the business his parents started following their escape from Vietnam. And then there are Vietnamese Charlie Vo and Black Olivett Robinson, who became business partners after first meeting as manicurist and client.

Pham also interviews family members who once encouraged her to work with them in the salon. Pham admits she found the work degrading then, but goes on to addresses the cultural and economic impact it has on the lives of Vietnamese immigrants.

The documentary premieres on PBS and on WORLD Channel as part of the latest season of “America ReFramed.” Watch the trailer here: