baartman, beyoncé, & me will be a 60-minute documentary film that explores the impact of white supremacy, racism, sexism and patriarchy on black female feelings about our beauty and sexuality. Among other issues, the film will look at the origins and lasting nature of the unspoken labels "desireable" - or "f---able" as sociologist and anti-porn activist, Gail Dines, calls it - versus "invisible," that male-dominated culture imposes on women in general, and black women in particular. The film will answer questions like why are women placed into these categories - either desirable or invisible - and is that designation based on how closely a woman's physical beauty aligns with a particular beauty standard? How did this dichotomy develop? And is there a realm between "desirable" and "invisible" where black women are visible but not at all desired? Why is popular culture so fixated with female "hotness," and what does being hot really mean? Where does female anxiety over being judged beautiful and/or sexy come from? What, exactly, is the standard against which we’re judged? And how does this standard specifically affect black women?
Through the stories of a range of black women, including the filmmaker, baartman, beyoncé, & me will seek to place the American beauty ideal in a historical context. The film will also challenge and complicate our most fundamental notions of what it means to be beautiful, examine how who is beautiful and who is not is often an imposed designation, and reclaim the power to self define. Part of the film's journey will include attempts to track down Beyoncé in order to explore the questions at the heart of the film with her - a black female who few would argue is considered to be both "beautiful" and "hot." The film will also prominently feature the story of Sarah Baartman (aka the 19th century "Hottentot Venus") - arguably the first black woman to bear the distinct burden of embodying all of the negative stereotypes dealing with black female beauty and sexuality.
Why This Film?
Our culture has done much to make women feel insecure about how we look. From the moment white women of the 19th century were able to purchase a mirror, and eventually even be photographed, the stark contrast between what is considered beautiful, and what, or who, is not, began to be established. However, even before reflections of beauty became possible, white supremacist notions about race and gender that emerged almost as soon as the British arrived in this country, most likely constructed the American beauty standard in place today. Sarah Baartman was judged by it. Beyoncé and other black female celebrities seem to gain popularity and accolades as "beautiful" and "sexy" based on how closely they appear to match that standard. And average, every day black women are often situated outside of that standard altogether. If we don't fit the "beautiful" bill, then we are, in effect, invisible, or possibly visible in an utterly negative way. What's the social impact of this marginalization, and how do we cope with it? Do we seek to be the object of the male gaze in order to compensate, and if so, what's the impact? Is there anything redemptive about the desire to be seen? And how are all of these questions further complicated if our sexual orientation is not heterosexual? baartman, beyoncé & me will seek to address these questions and others, and contextualize the very real struggle that black women of all shades, shapes and sizes often endure within our white supremacist, male oriented culture.
That said, baartman, beyoncé, & me will also talk about the ways in which black women celebrate our uniqueness. There are black women - past and present - who, for a variety of reasons, have successfully challenged not only the systems that can cause us to feel negatively about ourselves, but who have also resisted being defined by anything or anyone other than themselves. These women walk(ed) around proudly with a complete appreciation for and acceptance of who they are as black women, and what that means in terms of their outer - and inner - beauty. They accept(ed) that their blackness and black femaleness looks different from white femaleness, and they embrace that. In fact, they love themselves for it.
I personally remember struggling with whether or not I was desireable, (and feeling very invisible), in my pre-teen and teenage years. There are two seminal moments that really stand out to me: one is an experience I had with my dad when I was 12 or 13. My parents separated when I was four, and my dad came for weekly visits. During one visit, he came into my room and saw that I had posted pictures from Seventeen and Elle magazines on my wall. My well-intentioned dad looked at the pictures, then looked at me, and said, “You know, you’ll never look like them...you're attractive but you’re not pretty.” I was crushed. My dad's words, “you’re not pretty,” struck me hard, and I internalized his comments to mean that I must be ugly.
I also remember going to a male friend’s senior prom as a junior. I was all dressed up, and felt pretty. Some of my date's friends made a side comment to him about my mouth being the only useful thing on my face. I didn’t realize then that the guys were referring to my full lips as perfect for a particular sex act, but I do remember feeling reduced, barely seen, and once again, ugly. This is my earliest memory of being objectified as a female, and those comments made me feel incredibly bad and ashamed.
As a result of those two experiences, and other ones that I’ll call micro- aggressions, which happened throughout my teenage years and even into my adult ones, I internalized the idea that "I am not attractive, I am not pretty." I constantly compared myself to friends and other females that I thought fit "the standard" - a white beauty standard - that I felt I could never approach, let alone reach. Any friend that had straight hair, was light skinned, or that had keen, "white" features, was obviously, in my mind, much more attractive than I was, and I felt very insecure. As a result, I was self-conscious and did various things to try to assuage my deep seated insecurity. As I've grown older and confronted those old feelings of inadequacy, and talked with other women about my own experiences and their's, I've been surprised, and generally troubled, to hear that so many women I consider to be beautiful (both inside, and out, I should add) have struggled with society's perceptions of who they are, and whether or not they're worthy of attention, affirmation, and consideration, based on how they look. There's much to be said about moving past the negative perceptions and focusing solely on the positive. However, I strongly believe that until black women contend with the ways in which we are daily wounded by an enduring, invisible, outsider status, we will never truly heal, and many of us will never get to a point where we can celebrate our beautiful, sexy, selves.
How Will I Use Your Donations?
The money raised through this Kickstarter campaign will fund a 10-20 minute work sample that visually lays out my vision for the larger film. I will submit that work sample, along with a developed treatment, to various funding sources in an effort to raise additional production funds for baartman, beyoncé & me.
If you'd like to donate via PayPal, please use the email address "firstname.lastname@example.org" to "Send money to friends and family." Be aware that unlike contributing via Kickstarter, your PayPal contribution will be collected immediately, and will NOT count towards fulfilling the Kickstarter goal.
Risks and challenges
My main challenge is that this is my first film as a director. However, my Master of Fine Arts in Film Production from Howard University, my work as an associate producer on documentary filmmaker, Ken Burns' Jazz series, and my years of experience as an independent producer, an instructor in film, and chair of a film department, have prepared me well. I have already begun to surround myself with a crew and team of advisors who can collaborate and walk with me through the production process such that my vision for a compelling, intelligent and powerful film will be realized.
Contact me with your feedback and interest via Twitter (@nataliebb2), Facebook ("Baartman, Beyoncé & Me" or "Natalie Bullock Brown"), or email (email@example.com).Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (30 days)