By Vanessa Martinez | Shadow and Act May 2, 2013 at 9:43PM
Here’s a less than perfect film streaming on Netflix, which we’ve profiled a few times before. Black Butterfly can be appreciated for its efforts to bringing an important story to the screen, one that unfortunately many teens - especially of color - find themselves in.
If only the film’s acting were more even; the narrative more focused and its delivery less heavy-handed. Yet, it is still recommend viewing. Helmed by Mark Harris, Black Butterfly stars newcomer Mahogany Monae, whom by the way I couldn’t find any further info on, not even an imdb page.
Monae plays Ariel, a charismatic high school student who aspires to be a professional swimmer, with dreams of participating in the 2012 Olympics. A circle of supportive love ones surrounds her: loving, mid-to-upper class parents, a loyal boyfriend and a caring, mentoring swimming coach.
The film does a good job engaging you by setting up a believable situation in which a young woman’s world can be turn upside down by an awful and unprecedented rape. It’s not common to see a rape depiction and treatment in film, especially of a young woman of color, that didn’t seem exploitative or unnecessary. Yet this small-scale production packs a punch to the gut with such depiction, thanks greatly to the performance by Monae.
Without giving much away, Ariel is raped by an acquaintance, (one of her father’s police work force partners) which is the most common type of rape statistically. Afterwards, Ariel struggles with feelings of shame, secrecy and grief, which are quite stirring to watch. If it weren’t for the nuanced quality of her performance, the film wouldn’t have worked as a whole. I also appreciated the depiction of Ariel’s mentally disabled brother and how her family dealt with him.
There were certain elements of the film that were revealing and enlightening, primarily because they aren’t common in film. Historically, black women’s reality as disproportionately being victims of rape has been overlooked. There seems to be a misconception that black women aren’t being raped as much as it really happens, and there also seems to be a stigma of those women who “cry rape” that prompt many to immediately question and/or doubt many victims. It’s a complex issue; feel free to shed light in the comment section.
As I said previously, it’s not a perfect film, and certainly not technically masterful. Some of the scenes have a rehearsal/acting workshop quality to them and some may be just a tad over the top, especially toward the climactic end, but the message in Black Butterfly resonates, and it is one that is rarely explored realistically in films for and by people of color.