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15th RSFF: ‘Why Do You Have Black Dolls?’ + Why A Film Like This Matters

by Emmanuel Akitobi
October 13, 2012 2:38 PM
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The 15th Reel Sisters of The Diaspora Film Festival & Lecture Series, being held this weekend in New York at Long Island University’s Brooklyn campus, is screening an array of interesting films, including Samantha Knowles’ short film, Why Do You Have Black Dolls?

Why Do You Have Black Dolls? will be screened on Sunday, October, 14, 2012, as part of the Section C: Back Down Memory Lane block @ 5 – 6PM.  The entire festival schedule can be found HERE.

From director Knowles and Selwonk Productions, the film is described as follows:

"Why Do You Have Black Dolls?", is a film inspired by a question asked of an 8-year old girl. It explores the history, the beauty, and the pride that is the black doll. Through its characters, a little-known community of black doll enthusiasts, it reveals that the black doll is more than a plaything; it is a cultural artifact that represents the history of the people it depicts.

At first glance, Why Do You Have Black Dolls? could be  seen as just another film about hobbyists, or specifically, doll enthusiasts.  But a film like this one has the potential to open doors to conversations that yield a greater social impact than originally intended.

Last month on (a blog I’d highly recommend you check out), two posts in particular caught my eye.  One was about a 2010 dramatic short film titled Cores e Botas (Colors & Boots) from director Juliana Vicente, which uses the “Paquitas” phenomenon of the 1980’s as a backdrop for its exploration into the history of racial exclusion in Brazil.

The second article posted on that commanded my attention was one that discussed the recent release of a new Brazilian-themed Barbie doll.  As part of Mattel’s Dolls of The World collection, the 2012 Brazil Barbie is a departure from past Barbie dolls that have been released and intended to represent an image of beauty to millions of little girls in that country.

"So, Mattel is releasing a Baiana edition of the famous Barbie doll collection. This is good news, right? Well, depends on where you live. First of all, for those who don’t know, Baiana (Bahian in English) is the term for a woman from the northeastern state of Bahia.

Baiana also refers to the “baiana do acarajé (baiana of the acarajé)”, which is a woman one sees in the streets of cities like Salvador, Bahia, selling acarajé, the famous fried fritters stuffed with shrimp and vatapá sauce.

The women are usually of African descent and dressed in long, flowing white dresses, head wrap and necklaces. These women have long been representatives of Bahia’s majority black, African-influenced culture for centuries and have been the focus of countless anthropological studies dealing with cuisine, culture and African derived religions." (

To better understand why the release of this Afro-Brazilian Barbie is significant, one only needs to look at the past Brazilian Barbie dolls released to see how far they’ve come, and how far they still need to go.

Past versions of Mattel's Barbie, that were intended to depict the Brazilian woman, didn't really represent women of color.
The latest version of Barbie Brazil (right) does a much better job at representing the Brazilian woman of color, but is still missing some of the more African features seen in an earlier model of the Baiana Barbie (left).

So if you're able to, make your way to the 15th Reel Sisters Film Festival and Lecture Series at LIU this weekend to check out Why Do You Have Black Dolls?, and see why the idea of owning dolls and toys that represent one's own heritage could matter so much to the development of young people of color all over the world.

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  • Arlene M Coleman | May 27, 2013 4:19 PMReply

    In conducting research to put together a program on black dolls for my doll club, I ran across Miss Knowles. How may I obtain a copy of this film?
    Thank you,
    Arlene Coleman

  • James Madison | October 14, 2012 3:55 PMReply

    Not trying to hijack the thread, but in relation, I ordered some African dolls for gifts from in case anyone is interested. I heard about them through CUNY's Independent Sources that broadcast in NYC.

  • MelissaenAfrique | October 14, 2012 3:33 PMReply

    Cute dolls! In my opinion the baby faced one looks more African although many Africans do have narrow faces as well, especially around my parts (East). But light eyes? No.

  • Geneva Girl | October 14, 2012 9:10 AMReply

    Please let us know when the doll movie is available online or DVD. I'd like to see it and know it will be of interest to many of my relatives. Thanks.

  • James Madiosn | October 13, 2012 8:30 PMReply

    Good post!

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