A light-skinned African-American woman filmmaker addresses the issue of color consciousness within the black community by mixing her own commentary with the testimony of two dozen African-American men and women of a variety of complexions. The result is a moving and enlightening
documentary which asks viewers to rethink their prevailing standards of beauty.
Filmmaker Kathe Sandler begins her narration by stressing that she spent eight years making the film in order to "create a canvas which people could look upon to understand the experiences of other black people." Sandler, the child of an interracial marriage, declares of herself, "I look white;
I identify myself as black." Throughout the film, individual black men and women of a variety of hues, most of them interviewed separately and identified onscreen by their first names, share their experiences of being judged by other blacks on the basis of their skin shade. Archival photos and
film footage are used to illustrate certain segments.
The filmmaker travels to Tuskegee, Alabama, a predominantly black southern city long torn by intra-racial divisions of class and color. Only in recent years has a dark-skinned man been elected mayor of Tuskegee and another dark-skinned man been appointed president of the nation's preeminent black
university, Tuskegee University.
In Crown Heights, Brooklyn, two teenaged boys, Keyonn and Keith, discuss how skin color has affected their friendship, particularly when they meet girls who overwhelmingly prefer the lighter-skinned Keith.
A number of women in their 30s and 40s who came of age in the 1960s describe their experiences with hairstyles at a time when black women began to drop the practice of straightening their hair in order to let it grow naturally. A montage of film footage from the late '60s and early '70s recalls
the black pride movement, particularly as it affected hairstyles and fashions. Seen in the footage are Kathleen Cleaver, Stokely Carmichael, Angela Davis, Jesse Jackson and Malcolm X. Veteran TV newscaster Melba Tolliver recalls how she almost lost her job when she changed her hair to a natural
style and is seen in "before-and-after" footage.
By the dawn of the Reagan era, the "afro" was out of style and regressive attitudes returned, as seen in a rap music video in which the singers laud the "good hair" of a light-skinned, straight-haired young woman. Today, some African-American women are turning to long-braided "locks" as a means
of keeping in fashion without compromising their African heritage.
A segment on cosmetic surgery features an interview with the chief plastic surgeon at Harlem Hospital, a Nigerian doctor who outlines the types of surgery currently requested by black clients and the hidden messages in their requests. A segment on beauty pageants includes a visit to Howard
University in Washington DC, where the homecoming queen is both dark-skinned and "bald" (i.e. with close-cropped hair). She describes the recent changes in attitude that have allowed her to achieve a title that was previously bestowed only on light-skinned girls.
Although the viewpoints represented are overwhelmingly middle- or upper-class, curiously omitting the input of poorer, perhaps angrier blacks, the film remains a sincere bid to raise the consciousness of black and non-black viewers alike.
Sandler closes the film by stating: "Color consciousness in black America is a consequence of racism in white America. As we struggle to redefine ourselves, we must also confront the reality that we live in a society that has failed to embrace all of us."
A concisely written and edited documentary, A QUESTION OF COLOR touches on a wide range of issues and serves to educate viewers about the need to overcome biases based on shade of skin or kinkiness of hair. It deftly balances the filmmaker's distinct voice with the strong personalities of her
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- Released: 1993
- Rating: NR
- Review: A light-skinned African-American woman filmmaker addresses the issue of color consciousness within the black community by mixing her own commentary with the testimony of two dozen African-American men and women of a variety of complexions. The result is a… (more)