By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act September 24, 2013 at 5:19PM
Editor's note: Bill Duke's and D. Channsin Berry's documentary, becomes available on DVD today, 9/24, for those who missed its broadcast premiere on the OWN network, in June.
The film does its job, which, from what I gather, is to engage the viewer on the particular matter it tackles; to generate conversation.
So if you’re watching it expecting to hear solutions or *fixes*, don’t; That’s not quite what the film sets out to do - at least, I certainly don’t believe so.
Filled with heartfelt testimonials that you’ll either empathize with, or dismiss (I include that as a potential reaction for some, given the varied responses to the film thus far on this site from readers), Dark Girls isn't a film I'd reductively classify as either "good" or "bad." It's more like a discussion with the audience, with the end goal being to hopefully get to some root or core of the shadeism/colorism issue that's long plagued, not just the African American community, but people of color the world over. Although it's unquestionably a work that's targeted specifically at black Americans.
It's a topic we've discussed ad naseam here on S&A, and that I'm sure many, if not all of you have had some meaningful encounters with, whether via your own firsthand experiences, or through conversations/debates on and offline. So I won't say the film, despite all the anticipation for it, is particularly new, which certainly isn't a criticism of it, by the way. Consider it more of a continuation of the dialogue we've been having here and elsewhere, for as long as I can remember.
If anything, its freshness lies in its format, in that, it essentially forces you to sit for its running time, and watch and listen to the many personal stories told firsthand by the many dark girls who feel branded like Hester Prynne in The Scarlett Letter, with dark skin as a kind of punishment/prison, thanks to how society - specifically what we call the "black community" - views them.
Not that the "blame" (for lack of a better word) is a burden that's placed entirely on the shoulders of black people. The film takes into consideration the long recent history of African people, as historians and psychologists (and other professionals in the mental health field), offer their own analyses on the why, where, what, whom, and how of the matter at hand, intercut with the many testimonials.
But thinking about it further, I actually won't say that there's any "blame" dished out. I would instead say that how you receive the film, particularly the individual real-life stories, will depend on your stance on shadeism/colorism, and just where you believe the "fault" lies. And I'd expect some might immediately get on the defensive, after seeing/hearing themselves described as, we could say, "enforcers" of the problem - essentially, like a mirror being held up.
And no matter how aware, thoughtful and progressive you might think you are, you'll be surprised to realize just how deep your/our own prejudices are, and where they are rooted; where your/our own standards of beauty come from (both men and women), and why we make the choices that we currently do.
So I won't be surprised if it's, for some, a moment of self-discovery - a revelation which might lead to your own tackling of your own prejudices, head-on. And even if you aren't able to completely be rid of them, you'd at least now be aware that they exist, which might then influence the choices you make, after seeing the film.
And even if you don't reach some form of self-realization, you will (hopefully) come to understand just how deep some of the wounds really are.
You could think of it as an extended, and necessary *family* therapy session.
Directors Bill Duke and D. Channsin Berry smartly keep the film's running time relatively short to just 75 minutes; I say that because of the weight of the subject matter and its unfiltered delivery. Even the most compassionate might start to feel overwhelmed after a period of time. But, again, consider it part of an ongoing conversation - a 75-minute chat with family, broadly-speaking, on a deeply-rooted issue that affects us all.
The hope I'm sure is that the conversation doesn't end once the film ends, but that it continues, and that the post-screening conversation is just as honest and raw, as the declarations made within the film. As Duke himself said in an interview, what he expects to come from this is "to create a discussion, because in discussion there’s healing, and in silence there is suffering. Somehow if you can speak it and get it out, healing starts."
Look for a follow-up to the film that will look at the colorism issue from the other POV - the other POV being that of the fairer-skinned black girl/woman.
It's now available on DVD in September.