Below director Darryl Roberts opens up about the genesis of his obesity doc "America the Beautiful 2: The Thin Commandments," his follow-up to "America the Beautiful," which examined the nation's obsession with beauty. Also included is an exclusive scene from the film, which opens at New York's Quad Theater on Wednesday, October 12 followed by a national roll-out. For screening locations go here.
In an instant, 29 million Americans became fat, out of shape and dangerously obese… and they did it without taking a single bite of food. It was all the result of a decision to change the national standard for obesity. The question is “What was behind a ruling to declare so many people to be fat? Was it political, financial or for the good of humankind?” You’ll find out that diet companies have raked in huge profits because of the new standards — guidelines the weight loss industry helped structure. The answer lies in a new film by award-winning director Darryl Roberts who, in a follow-up to “America The Beautiful”, examines the cause of our country’s obsession with dieting. “America The Beautiful 2: The Thin Commandments” also weighs in on the raging debate between doctors who say fat is healthy versus those who disagree. [Synopsis courtesy of the film's website]
The history of my last film, “American the Beautiful,” was interesting. I didn’t get into any major film festivals and several distribution companies told me the film wouldn’t work because the lead subject and myself were African-American. They said African-Americans don’t watch documentaries and Whites won’t go see ones with Blacks in it.
I informed the investors what we were up against and my biggest investor in Portland, Oregon, who was White said, “They’re acting like all Whites are country red-necks. Let’s do a test screening here in Portland to see what happens. Whites don’t get any whiter than here in Portland. I did the test screening and the results were phenomenal. We decided that a grass roots distribution approach was the best way to go.
What happened next was nothing short of a miracle. We ended up playing 30 cities theatrically, getting paid to screen on 287 college campuses, marketing DVD’s off our website as well as getting a DVD company to release the film through traditional means. We had a successful VOD run and had some foreign sales through an international sales rep on top of playing in 20 International film festivals.
So, one of my major challenges was figuring out if I should use some of the themes from the last film or use the same style. I finally decided the “sequel” should be a follow-up and stand on its own two feet – thus, “America the Beautiful 2: The Thin Commandments” was born.
There is a certain freedom coming behind a successful film. The last film was bashed by major critics and people still showed up, so now I’m not worried about reviews which are normally critical for a documentary release.
One of the things that drove the success of the last film was a mailing list of 500,000 people that I amassed by doing a biweekly newsletter. I did feel, “What if the sequel doesn’t live up to their expectations?” Ultimately, I knew in my heart that I had to tell the story the best I could with the resources that I had and let the chips fall where they may. As they say, documentaries aren’t finished, they’re abandoned.
Doing a documentary examining the possibilities of being healthy at a wide variety of sizes was tough because we have been indoctrinated to believe that being fat is bad. Even my editors sometimes looked at footage of someone overweight but perfectly healthy and say, "She doesn’t look healthy.” That’s when I realized that we had a major prejudice against fat in this country and the film would be controversial and necessary.
The scenes where I expose the truth about BMI made the editor say, “Wow, I had no idea.” That’s when I knew I had the goods. His attitudes about overweight people are completely understandable when you consider that billions of dollars are spent alarming us of the dangers of obesity, but hardly any money is spent warning us of all the people that die from dieting every year.
Ultimately the film isn’t to promote being obese, but to promote individual responsibility and healthiness. We all have different genetic imprints and it’s best for us to accept ourselves because it isn’t possible for everyone to have a BMI of 25, but everyone can be healthy at their own set point weight.