There has been a lot of buzz around the upcoming documentary Dark Girls (2011) directed by Bill Duke and D. Channsin Berry. Duke is the ground-breaking, prolific director of numerous hit television shows over the years and he has helmed such movies as Deep Cover (1992), A Rage in Harlem (1991), Hoodlum (1997), and TD Jake’s Not Easily Broken (2009). I understand that Berry is a song writer, music video director and documentary filmmaker. Based on these filmmakers’ track records and the subject matter, I am sure that Dark Girls will be a compelling piece.
I wouldn’t deign to criticize another filmmaker’s voice or their hard work but as a dark-skinned black woman and someone whom this film would appear to represent, I have some reservations. A number of filmmakers have explored black culture’s preoccupation with skin tone and hair texture, with mixed results. This includes Spike Lee’s School Daze, which featured a musical number with dark- and light-skinned black women fighting over “good” and “bad” hair, Chris Rock’s Good Hair, a comedic look at black women’s quest for straighter hair, and My Nappy Roots: A Journey Through Black Hair-itage, by Regina Kimbell, an empowering film about black women struggling with and, ultimately embracing, their hair in all its varied glory.
It is interesting that while the issues around color and hair affect the lives of both black men and black women, the filmmakers tend to be male and the domain in which it is explored is female. I don’t believe this is just because beauty is a uniquely female concern. Instead, by framing the pathology and misery of the black experience in a female context, whether through derisive humor or with deep compassion, the male filmmakers are able to explore the topic from a comfortable distance. This is the nature of male dominance, and it happens at the expense of black men exploring and healing their own pain.
Speaking of pain, that’s all I see in the Dark Girls preview. While it is important to address the very real hurts of internalized racism, it is just as crucial to celebrate the joy and beauty of being black. Sadly, few the color/hair films I’ve seen so far, with the exception of My Nappy Roots, does this.
I see myself in the women in Dark Girls. I want to hug them and wipe their tears. But I’d be lying if I said that being dark equals not being loved or feeling attractive, not reaching your potential, and not enjoying life to the fullest. This is why the very idea of blackness is so fascinating, scary and beautiful all at the same time. It is a bitter sweet mix that may take many, many films to fully grasp.
I look forward to seeing Dark Girls in its entirety. I’d also like to invite readers to check out my personal essay Dare to Be Dark: My Trip to a Tanning Salon.