My thoughts on the documentary “Light Girls”

On Sunday, January 18, just before MLK Day, OWN aired the documentary Light Girls. The film is a follow-up to the documentary Dark Girls, which toured the indie film circuit a couple of years ago. I attended a special luncheon in 2012 where I had the opportunity to interview D. Channsin Berry, one of the directors/producers of Dark Girls, and during that interview he mentioned that he and producer Bill Duke had started interviewing women for what would become Light Girls. At the time, they were considering calling the documentary The Yellow Brick Road or something to that effect.

My thoughts and feelings about Light Girls are much more brief than my response to Dark Girls. I should start by mentioning that I did not realize I was light-skinned until I was 7 or 8 years old. Kids at school told me I was different. Before then, I honestly thought that brown is just brown. What I appreciated most about Light Girls, is that it allowed lighter skinned women to voice the hurt that we are often afraid to voice. I have been in plenty of conversations where darker-skinned black people have made snide comments about light-skinned people, and have felt guilted into just staying silent, because I was afraid to be labeled a stereotypical light-skinned girl. I didn’t want to be called stuck up, told that I thought I was better than everyone else, and accused of acting like a white girl. I would be a millionaire if I had a dollar for every time I have been called all of those things by unenlightened, self-hating people who don’t know that their words have weight because of their own oppression.

This is not to discount that there are privileges that come with having light skin, such as being more readily accepted by white people (but not as accepted as white girls, Asians, or Latinas) or having men find me attractive (but not as attractive as white girls, Asians, or Latinas).

However, in the African American community it is presumed that it can’t be difficult to be a light-skinned woman, because the rappers prefer us and the cosmetics companies put us in their ads. But, there is a price that comes with being fetishized, which is very different from being desired. There was a young woman in a documentary who spoke about having a bottle thrown at her by men cat-calling her. That has happened to me! And then a more painful revelation from a woman who spoke about being sexually abused by grown men because of her light skin.

The documentary also examined the act of passing for white. Let me just say that passing was not a privilege. What kind of privilege forces you to deny your family? It’s kind of like the house ni**** versus field ni**** argument. It’s still slavery. 

I am uninterested in comparing suffering. I find it useless. Our struggles may be different, but not greater than or less than. This is not a proper measure. I don’t think that any system that gives one group privilege for oppressing another can give anyone a leg up or an advantage. Especially when neither of those groups of people are a part of the alpha group. Anything that inflicts psychological, emotional, physical, long term pain on an entire race of people is terrible, and our resources would be better spent uniting to lift each other up than compare degrees of suffering. I empathize and sympathize with my darker skinned brothers and sisters for their struggle, but I am not interested in comparing who suffered more because we have all suffered.

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Q&A with Rain Pryor

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I interviewed actress, singer, and comedian Rain Pryor, daughter of famed comedian Richard Pryor, about her one-woman show Fried Chicken and Latkes. Here’s a taste of our conversation:

ArtsATL: Do you remember your first school play?

Rain Pryor: The first school play I ever did was Winnie the Pooh and I played the ass Eeyore, because — this should be in my play, but it’s not. I auditioned to play Raggedy Ann, but I didn’t get to play Raggedy Ann, I got to play a gingerbread girl, because they were like, “There are no black Raggedy Anns.” Winnie the Pooh was always played by a white boy, so it wasn’t like I was going to get to play Winnie the Pooh.

 

Race Reads

    • Millennials are less tolerant than you think “The fact of the matter is that millennials who are white — that is, members of the group that has always had the most regressive racial beliefs, and who will constitute a majority of U.S. voters for at least another couple of decades — are, on key questions involving race, no more open-minded than their parents. The only real difference, in fact, is that they think they are.” http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2015/01/millennials-are-less-tolerant-than-you-think.html

 

“Who killed Jimmy Lee Jackson?”

*CONTAINS SPOILERS*

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I went to see the movie SELMA last night, and it excelled at  serving as an agent of empathy, an educational resource, a reminder of the struggle for Civil Rights, and it put a soul to the names that history has memorialized. Much praise has been given to David Oyelowo, whose best moment is in his rendering of King’s speech in Montgomery. However, other stand-out performances for me are Carmen Ejogo as Coretta Scott-King and Tom Wilkinson as Lyndon B. Johnson. King’s interactions with these two built so much tension and suspense in a historical narrative where we already know the outcome.

In terms of cinematography, editing, and artistic merit, the movie was just okay. It could have used another round on the cutting room floor, the ending is messy, the framing of the shots is amateur at times, and a lot of the shots were blurry. It probably won’t get any Oscars, unless the Academy is trying to make a statement, but it is no less worthy of being named one of the best films of 2014.

However, I’m pretty sure that Ava DuVernay has made history, not only as the director of the first  major motion picture about Martin Luther King, Jr or as the first black woman nominated for a Best Director Golden Globe. I’m pretty sure she is the first director in history to show a group of girls get blown up by a bomb and have their bodies engulfed by flames until their body parts were in pieces scattered across the rubble of what once was a church in Birmingham. She did it beautifully. In a time where violence in film and television has ceased to be jarring, Ava DuVernay shocked me.

Then, beyond the shock, she moved me to tears. There is a scene where Dr. King is preaching the funeral of a young marcher named Jimmy Lee Jackson, and he later talks to Jackson’s grandfather who could not be more devastated by his grandson’s murder. I wish I could find the text to that funeral speech where he repeatedly asks “Who killed Jimmy Lee Jackson?” It was exquisite. In that moment, you feel and see on screen how Michael Brown, Jordan Davis, Kendrick Johnson, Trayvon Martin, Sean Bell, Eric Garner, and Oscar Grant’s families felt. This age-old tale of racism and brutality against black men was too timely.

Today, Selma, Alabama is very much a place that time has forgotten. But, I hope that the stories of the people who marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge will continue to have life. I’m not sure if people today are willing to march 50 miles and work tirelessly for 15, 20, or 30 years for their own freedom, but I hope that people of color will make more of an effort to vote after seeing what their ancestors went through for them to be able to have a say in how they are governed.

The real SELMA

My father grew up in Selma, Alabama, and my extended family gathered there for Thanksgiving in 2014. There were about 100 of us at Thanksgiving dinner. Our family has very deep roots in Selma and in Gee’s Bend (famous for the quilts in the Smithsonian). My aunts and uncles marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, and our family has driven across that bridge a thousand times.

It’s amazing. I have been to Selma dozens of times in my life, and it holds a place in my heart that is mostly centered around homemade food, firecrackers, cousins, gravel roads, trailer parks, poverty, and simplicity. Seeing it as an adult, I see the effects that the bad PR of racism had on the city. Selma is impoverished, lacking jobs, has a high violent crime rate, full of empty storefronts, and still segregated.

I wanted to interview SELMA director Ava DuVernay after hearing her speak at the BronzeLens Film Festival in Atlanta, but I was unable to interview her, because…well…she’s a Golden Globe nominee and I am not Barbara Walters or Oprah…Alas, here are some photos from my trip of the REAL Selma.

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