In this week’s “Foot Soldiers” segment, host Melissa Harris-Perry profiled Cynthia Sansone and Rachel De Molfetto, two Long Island sisters who run Racine Salon & Spa in Islip, N.Y. On the third Monday of each month, they open their doors to women cancer patients, and pamper them with an array of salon services free of charge. Their story is told in the HBO short documentary “Mondays at Racine,” nominated for an Academy Award this Sunday night.
I had a chance to to speak with Sansone this week.
How long have you and your sister Rachel run Racine Salon & Spa?
For a total of 16 years. We’ve been doing the Mondays at Racine for about ten.
How did you guys come up with the idea for Mondays at Racine?
I was actually sitting on the beach by my house about ten years ago, and my mom always pops into my head. She died in 1989 of breast cancer. Although memories fade as time goes on, she haunts me–she was treated with a lot of indignities in the ’80s. The ’80s was the decade of AIDS; people were unsure about people being ill, and as she began to lose her hair, the salon that she went to did not know how to help her. As a matter of fact, I can remember hearing people whisper as her hair started to fall out!
I thought, “Gee, we have a salon, why don’t we do something to help the women in our community with their beauty needs.” So I called my sister Rachel and I passed the idea to her and she said, “Great, let’s put it together and see how we can work it out.” So that was really the genesis of the idea of doing it.
What kind of services do you offer on that day?
We do everything from massage and facials, to nails and toes. We do a lot of head shaving. For the record, that particular service–any woman or anybody can come in at any time and have that service done. We realize that some people cannot wait for that third Monday to have their hair cut or shaved. So they know, and the girls are all equipped and they have their scripts, and they know exactly how to handle the enormous amount of people who come in on a daily basis.
What have you seen from the people who come in on those days? How do they react to what you provide?
Women don’t want to be nurtured. We are the nurturers. So when you do come through those doors, it takes a very special brand of woman. And we find that we are very awe-inspired by the women who come in here. They end up being the teachers. They are the sages. They end up teaching us something with their strength, and their courage.
It helps to give us the script in knowing what to say, when that woman is coming in to get her head shaved, and we have to hold her hand. Now we have the dialogue to know what to say. Nobody wants to hear when you’re in 4th-stage cancer–when you have half a lung, you’re walking around with an IV–“Oh, you look good!” Who the f— wants to hear that? Pardon my carton of crudité, but… nobody wants to hear “oh you look good!” We have learned, people they want to be able to speak.
What was it like getting approached about making the documentary Mondays at Racine, and what was the process like for you and your sister?
I was just over the moon. I thought it was the greatest thing in the world. The director of this movie Cynthia Wade is true Renaissance woman, and by that I mean she has a vision of the future. The producer Robin Honan, is another brilliant woman.
My sister felt at times that our privacy was being invaded. Understandably, I get it. When they had to do several takes here, she had less patience…She felt like here a woman is telling her story, and because a truck passed by she had to do it again. She was mildly peeved by it, where I thought it was the greatest thing, I think it’s the greatest thing, and I’m humbled. I think it’s amazing.
What was it like finding out the movie received an Academy Award nomination?
We have been touring the country with the film, and we’ve won a lot of awards, Jury selections, audience awards, honorable mentions. I knew at the very least that our film was going to get into the nomination. I knew it. It’s about being the sum of all parts, under this roof, with an idea, you can make something happen. What do they say, it takes a village? You can make something happen.
Are you excited to go out to California for the Academy Awards Ceremony?
I am so excited, because I would like to meet James Gandolfini. My sister would like to meet Daniel Day-Lewis. All I want to do is hear the snorts and loud breathing of Tony Soprano (laughs). All comedy aside, my sister and I are two girls that went to school in Brentwood, Long Island, and we are just normal gals with big hearts, and we want to do what we can, especially to honor our beautiful mother, Mildred. For all of this to happen, and for all of this light to shine on us, it’s extraordinary.
Do you have any future plans or goals when it comes to the Mondays at Racine? What’s next for you guys?
My dream would be that when you are at the oncologist’ office, that more formally when do you get the diagnosis and he maps out your treatment–the chemo and radiation–that you’re getting a prescription for Racine or another salon like us that will take care of women’s hair, skin, and nails. Because people are so afraid of the poison that the chemo gives you, at that point I would like to see something like the Body-Mind-Spirit being incorporated into the chemical warfare that goes on, to offer some balance.
I do feel like there are many women out there who are alone, who don’t have any network of family or friends around them to help them. It needs to come out because we are battling this as a nation, as a world. And we do need the sisterhood, and we do need some changes to come into place.
See the trailer for “Mondays at Racine” below. Find out more about the film on Facebook.