Black Doll, by Vincentian filmmaker Akley Olton, premiered at the opening Caribbean Tales’ 2018 International Film Festival.
Black Doll is an intimate picture of a young girl’s relationship with her dolls and her hair, touching on a range of issues including femininity, race, and self-presentation.
While Black Doll ventures into territory which could easily become trite or stereotypical, it aptly avoids both pitfalls, instead of bringing the audience a truly moving piece with intrigue, suspense, and illumination in its short four minutes.
The story breaks ground in important ways, pulling you deep into tales of the soul and heart.
Black Doll can be described as strict realism told through a surrealist lens. With an art-house feel to the whole piece, it appears to be shot on authentic film.
It fits itself neatly into the steadily growing body of visual work which creates space for black women and girls to see themselves represented in deep and meaningful ways.
The eyes of the young filmmaker, himself not a girl, are kind and deeply personal. This is given extra weight in the credits when the audience learns that both the actresses in the film share his family name.
The love with which this story is told, and the depth of the understanding that is given to the young protagonist’s story, shows a deep bond between filmmaker and his subjects. The film gets inside the head of the lead, but also, inside a broader consciousness around the ways in which black girls and women are often pigeonholed.
The film does an excellent job portraying the threat to self-confidence that is held in commercials, in the casual comments of adults, and in the blue-eyed, straight-haired presence of white dolls, for black girls.
I won’t tell you what happens in the film, which somehow leaves a much longer and more resonant message than one would guess in just four minutes, but it is enough to say that the young protagonist learns to take action into her own hands and decide who, and what gets to influence her.
It is sure to leave audiences with a feeling of warmth and provides space for continued self-reflection.
The film is indeed trailblazing in its own way, exploring the conflicting demands made on black female bodies, and showing the ways in which our young heroines utilize their own power to create space for themselves.