The Director Who Always Has A Red Lipstick


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"My name is Mahen Bonetti. I’m the director of the African Film Festival, Inc. (@africanfilmfest), an organization that showcases the works of filmmakers from Africa and its diaspora, using film as a catalyst to spark a larger discussion about the African identity. Film has helped me find myself within someone else's landscape—you learn to appreciate the diversity and the resourcefulness of others, different communities’ definitions of beauty and try to understand why those standards exist. This is our 25th year of the festival and something that still amazes me is when someone really brings originality to old stories—stories as old as life itself—but also brings their generational outlook. I love when I find that someone who can tell a story relevant to someone who's eighty years old or twenty-two. It makes me excited about my work because it means we'll never run out of stories.

My family and I actually came to New York because we were living in exile from Sierra Leone. While the collective mindset was 'waiting to go back,' I wanted to discover America! I would sneak out at night or make some excuse during the day to go hang out at Central Park or a jazz concert or club—that’s eventually how I met my husband, at The Mudd Club. Whatever I wore, I had to steal a red lipstick from my mom or sister. It was always about taking the lipstick.

Guerlain’s KissKiss Lipstick in Cuivre [ed note: discontinued] has been in my bag for years, but I still keep a red lipstick on me at all times. I always reach for Chanel Rouge Coco Lipstick, Rouge Coco gloss, or Nars Lip Gloss in No. 54. I think Chanel still makes incredible lip products—somehow, I don't think they've ever diluted their quality. I'll usually pat out the lip gloss so it looks like a stain and then I’ll add a little bit of lipstick to the contours of my cheeks, on the bridge of my nose, and under my eyes and then put my foundation powder on top. Putting lipstick under my eyes makes the bags less visible for some reason. A model friend of mine told me to use Preparation H for my under eyes too. It may sting a little, but it does make the bags go away.

With beauty in general, I like the old and new. I get my products based on how they feel on my skin and of course, if they match my skin tone. I used to customize my foundation with Prescriptives before their storefront closed, but now I mainly use foundations from MAC, Clinique, or Nars. When I was younger, a lot of my friends wore Flori Roberts. And then you had the supermodel, Naomi Sims' makeup line. Then Iman came out with products a little more lightweight and with a boutique approach. I do want to try Fenty Beauty and Pat McGrath one of these days. They definitely were both in the right place at the right time.

Sometimes you really do have to pay a lot for good products, but the shea butter I’ve brought back from Sierra Leone holds moisture just as well as some expensive things I've tried. A thin coat on your face or body and you’re good to go. Nigel’s Jamaican Almond Oil saved my skin from stretch marks while I was pregnant. What I’m into is keeping my skin supple—probably because virtually all African households slather on some kind of thick lotion post-bath when you're little. For the shower, Dr. Bronner’s Eucalyptus Soap is great. That soap is old as hell! But your skin feels clean as hell, like it’s alive when you're done. Once in a while, I’ll use a grainy scrub like Palermo’s Coffee Scrub with a washcloth.

I’ve used PhytoJoba Intense Hydration Brilliance Shampoo for a while. When my daughter was young, that’s when I started thinking about natural, plant-based products that worked for curly hair, but weren't stripping. After I wash my hair, I massage in some Olive Oil ORS Creme Hairdress, braid it up, tuck in the ends, and it keeps my hair really soft.

As I'm getting older, if I even just imagine something's off, my skin breaks out. Villa Floriani Chamomile Day Lotion is calming and rich enough to feel like you have that childhood Vaseline on your skin, but it's not sticky and it melts in. Tata Harper's Repairative Moisturizer is similar, and I've nearly used it all.

I have friends who work in beauty so I get a lot serums and creams, especially when the festival is approaching and I want to do the whole thing. The Red Door has been around forever—from time to time I'll stop in to pick up Estee Lauder serums and other recommendations from my friend who works there. She told me about Lancome’s Renergie Multi-Glow Cream, which was really hydrating when New York’s weather was really moody.

To relax, I'm definitely into the public dance scene—Alvin Ailey Extensions, Mark Morris' classes...the best drummers and dancers from all over West Africa based here. I'll be 62 next week, but I have friends who I danced with for 30 years who look so young. My brain gets more imaginative after class, I see so many things with a fresh eye, and I tell myself, 'I can do this.'"

—as told to ITG

Photos via Instagram.