“Alma’s Rainbow” made history in 1993 as one of the first 35mm American features to be directed, written, and produced by a Black woman. Director Ayoka Chenzira’s unsung gem about three women living in Brooklyn is now primed for rediscovery thanks to a 4K restoration from Kino Lorber and Milestone Films. IndieWire has the exclusive trailer for the re-release below.
The coming-of-age comedy explores the life of teenager Rainbow Gold (Victoria Gabrielle Platt), who is entering womanhood and navigating conversations and experiences around standards of beauty, self-image, and the rights Black women have over their bodies. Rainbow attends a strict parochial school, where she studies dance, and is just starting to become aware of boys. Meanwhile, she lives with her strait-laced mother Alma (Kim Weston-Moran), who runs a hair salon in the parlor of their home.
But when Alma’s free-spirited sister Ruby (Mizan Kirby) shows up from Paris after 10 years away, the sisters spar over what direction Rainbow’s life should take. Alma believes she has no need for men and advises her daughter to follow her example. Ruby, meanwhile, encourages both her niece and her sister to embrace life and love to the fullest.
The movie is shot by cinematographer Ronald K. Gray, cinematographer on another iconic entry in the Black cinema canon, Kathleen Collins’ “Losing Ground.”
The restoration is presented by “Daughters of the Dust” filmmaker Julie Dash, who said, “As you know, ‘Alma’s Rainbow’ was one of the first full-length dramatic narrative films produced and directed by an African American woman in the 20th century. Chenzira’s much celebrated and award-winning early work is essential viewing today as much as it was when first released in 1994.”
Ava DuVernay has also shared praise for the film, saying, “The matter of matriarchy within families is close to my heart. I think of my great-grandmother, my grandmother, my mother, and my aunts who all had a firm, beautiful hand in raising me. I long for more representations of these generational villages on screen, like those we experience in Ayoka Chenzira’s work. Ms. Chenzira’s ‘Alma’s Rainbow’ is a gorgeous clarion call for our young black girls, heralding the community, creativity and confidence that is the pride of our culture.”
In a director’s statement, Chenzira said, “I could write a book on the response to ‘Alma’s Rainbow.’ The film took a long time to make. I raised all the money independently. Distributors came and looked at the film, and there was a real split between what the men thought about it and what the women thought about it. The response by women has been overwhelmingly positive. The response by men, who write the checks, was that it was not an action piece. There was no Black pathology; there was no movie point of reference for three Black women driving a story.”
Chenzira, and audiences, now have a chance to see this true point of reference for such a story.
The “Alma’s Rainbow” re-release opens theatrically at New York’s BAM on Friday, July 29 from Kino Lorber and Milestone Films.
The restoration was completed by the Academy Film Archive, The Film Foundation, and Milestone Films. It was supervised by Mark Toscano, with funding provided by the Hobson/Lucas Family Foundation.