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First Review In For The Documentary “Dark Girls”…

First Review In For The Documentary "Dark Girls"...

it’s not so good. The Hollywood Reporter’s film reviewer John DeFore has written, what is to date, the first official review of Bill Duke’s and D. Channsin Berry’s much anticipated documentary Dark Girls (which we’ve covered extrensively on S & A), after its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival; he calls it a “well-meaning but haphazard” film, and basically states that there’s a much better movie on the subject waiting to be made.

Perhaps. Then again one could argue that the subject matter is something totally unknown and foreign to him, so what the hell does he know? No doubt, when the film gets around, there will be more opinions voiced about it, but, for now, if you want to read DeFore’s review, you can do so HERE.

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Saw it in the toronto film festival, and listened to a Q&A with the two directors afterwards.

I was a bit skeptical going into the movie that it would be a constant stream of similar comments from individuals, but actually I thought this movie had some heart. I liked it.

An audience member asked about what that reviewer commented on, regarding black boys/men, but one of the directors (sorry, couldnt tell who was who) answered the two are thinking of making a movie about boys/men, but this movie was made with respect to how some black females have had issues regarding one thing.

And you know what? I respected them for picking one issue and discussing it. It would’ve been haphazard if they threw a discussion of men if they didn’t have the budget to make the documentary longer.

I sat all the way back but I really wondered how they found people willing to let out their deep hurt like that to a camera.

A couple of the “experts” were unnecessary as they didn’t divulge what wasn’t clear, but the other experts actually were thoughtful and well-spoken.

Answering one person who asked what the directors learned as human beings (not black, men, the questioner stressed, but humans) one director said simply he realised “pain is pain”. (Poignant for me right after seeing the movie).

I do feel it would’ve been better if it was deeper and longer, but it was still good and I found effective. As for the review linked, while I like reading reviews critical of movies I like, this was a weak review (but well-intentioned). He criticises a movie for not going deeper, and doesn’t bother to explain well.

For example, the review claims the documentary doesn’t comment on why exactly foreign black people speaking the same sort of foolishness if slavery was a possible cause for African-Americans, the movie does discuss it briefly as due to people watching Western tv/movies/advertisments/models (I slightly disagree and feel colonialism was as important if not more).

I say give the documentary a shot. It’s not perfect, but even if you don’t love it, you won’t question it’s sincerity and effort. The interviews alone are worth the admission price.

Dankwa Brooks

I’m interested in giving ‘Dark Girls’ a try to. I thought their trailer was profound.

As a filmmaker, most of the people who pitch ideas on what I should make these days are documentaries and in this current day and age…reality shows.

Here’s my theory on documentaries and most of it applies to reality shows. First, it must be an interesting subject. Second, it must have a lot of research to back it up. Third, you usually have to have some credible “talking heads” in there to validate the subject. Fourth and fifth, you need a lot of resources and TIME to put together a comprehensible and interesting documentary.

Having seen a lot on television and in film festivals I can say that most documentaries are good at the beginning, good at the end and lose something in the middle. Also a lot of the feature length ones, if you shave 40 minutes off of it would be PERFECT!

Back to ‘Dark Girls’ I also think this may have been the “first cut” to drum up support and awareness of the doc to raise more funds to do a polish and so forth. I wish them luck for it seems like a worthwhile project.


DeFore writes, “it could serve as a useful conversation-starter in educational settings.” And it is just as I suspected: another documentary for white people, so that they might come to terms with the impact and treachery of antiblack racism for black females (or maybe even just white supremacy) one epic documentary (or film, i.e. Precious, Monster’s Ball, Color Purple) at a time. Was this documentary an opportunity for black females to get some face time? Sure. But is face time the crux of the problem which black females face, or merely a symptom of a problem well-beyond the imagination of these filmmakers, whose historical context is solely that of U.S. racial slavery and with an apolitical context? The ideological labor of a project that focuses on the consequences of skin color in the lives of black females is doomed to be limited to the work cut out for it by the very system which the subjects of the film find themselves in. Are the subjects of the film experts of their experiences? Sure. What can they tell us about antiblack racism? Not a damn thing. And it’s called “Dark Girls”… with no explanation of the relationship between the subjects of the film beyond that superficial comparison. It could have been a silent film and convey the same damn message.


Well, I will be attending one of the screenings of Bill Duke’s “Dark Girls” this weekend so I will let many of you know how that goes.

Also, Viola Davis makes an appearence in the doc. It should be really interesting to hear her take on the matter.

Charles Judson

I think his point is that as we don’t have any familiarity with the therapists, their insight into the topic has to have some real punch and can’t be the obvious. With recognizable subjects, we usually have some affinity for what they’ve talked about in the past, their stands on issues and what their accuracy is.

For instance, most of us who read S&A know who Cornel West is and as soon as he pops on screen, we can instantly decide, based on what we know, if we think what he’s saying in that moment has merit.

When unfamiliar faces pop up, if they aren’t digging deep into a subject, it can really undermine the effectiveness of a doc and lead you to question just how credible or knowledgeable the subject really is. Those type of subjects I call “The War Is Bad, Junk Food Gives You Heart Disease” expert. Well, duh. Who couldn’t tell you that. And beyond a core audience, who wants to sit through long periods of that? A good subject should take a doc, and the audience, into new territory.

From a film festival’s perspective, we see dozens of docs submitted each year, and many directors make the mistake of heavily relying on expert interviews that aren’t terribly insightful or revealing. Yet, they create large chunks of their film based on that footage. After a time, it damages a film because the movie becomes less an exploration of a topic and devolves into a monotone polemic without nuance or energy.

However, if I’m reading the reviewer correctly, that nuance is found not in the expert’s opinions, but in the stories of the women who have been singled out for been “too” dark. “Duke and Berry could have made a whole film using more, and more in-depth, interviews like these.” Having someone tell you clinically what’s happening definitely doesn’t carry the same weight as someone telling you what happen to them personally. A non doc example would be the thousands of articles on lynching and Jim Crow written prior to the 1950s that had none of the impact SEEING Black men, women and children beat up, hosed and threatened on the evening news did.

I’ll eventually see Dark Girls at some point. However, if the reviewer’s views are dead on, I’m probably going to be bored as hell about 10 minutes in. Which, from the footage I saw months ago, isn’t surprising. I wasn’t much impressed by what I saw then. Twenty years of going to film festivals and I’ve seen a version of this doc, and the narrative short version, about every 3 years.

This is a subject that really deserves some serious exploration. Our stories are not that cut and dry, and neither should our docs.


So he’s upset they used “unfamiliar therapists and academics” and implies that since some of the men interviewed preferred dark skinned women, it invalidates the phenomenon.

Maybe the doc could be better, but then so could his skimpy little review.

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