The image of the blond, slim and white Barbie has been seared into our collective minds. With the Greta Gerwig movie starring Margot Robie on the horizon, Barbie has stepped back into the limelight as an important yet frivolous part of American culture. But what about Black Barbie? While the first ever Barbie doll was released in 1959, it took until 1980 for the debut of a Black Barbie. In fact, throughout history dolls have predominantly been white. When the toy industry pivoted to creating and marketing dolls with different skin colors, it was revolutionary. It’s still a work-in-progress and we’re many years from dolls being truly representative and the white Barbie to be considered the default “regular” Barbie. But Black Barbie… well she made some really important strides.
Twelve years in the making, Lagueria Davis’ debut film Black Barbie: A Documentary is an ambitious exploration of the impact Black Barbie has had over the past four decades as well as an examination of the complexities of racism and representation. Davis’ aunt, who worked for Mattel from the mid 1950s until the 1990s, was the inspiration for the project. She is interviewed extensively along with two notable Barbie designers, including Kitty Black Perkins who designed the first Black Barbie, as well as various other experts and commentators. Interviews take place on colorful and vibrant sets making it look like the subject is in a makeshift doll house. Various Barbie dolls are used as puppets in fun animation sequences
What really impressed me about this documentary is how it approaches its subject from so many angles. It’s not just a historical documentary on the history of Black Barbie. There are numerous deeply personal, philosophical and psychological discussions about the subject matter that are all done in a way that add something important to the conversation. All of these elements are pieced together in a way that keeps the audience engaged. You don’t have to even be interested in Black Barbie to be completely engrossed with this documentary. It’s just that good.
Black Barbie: A Documentary premiered at the 2023 SXSW Film and TV Festival.
Photojournalist Amanda Mustard takes on the daunting task of confronting her grandfather about his long history of his sexual abuse of minors all while chronicling the process. In her documentary Great Photo, Lovely Life, co-directed by Rachel Beth Anderson, Mustard has difficult conversations with her mother, her sister and various other victims. It’s clear that the pain her grandfather inflicted on his victims is deep and that this journey is just one step forward.
Cycles of abuse are complex and the road to healing comes with many roadblocks. And this becomes evident in the film. Not only is one big finger pointed at the abuser but there are also many conversations about how his family and community may have played a part in allowing the abuse to continue. One would expect this documentary to be a difficult watch—and it is—but because Mustard makes her family so vulnerable to examination we can’t help become invested in her story and her mother’s story. It’s difficult to analyze the effectiveness of this documentary because each viewer will have their own reaction. Expect to be put on a roller coaster of emotions.
Great Photo, Lovely Life had its world premiere at the 2023 SXSW Film and TV Festival and will be released by HBO later in the year.
During her time at the White House as First and Second Lady, Claudia “Lady Bird” Johnson recorded an audio diary chronicling all of the major events that happened. Everything from John F. Kennedy’s assassination, to her husband President Lyndon B. Johnson’s inauguration, the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Act and her own personal endeavours including her Beautification Campaign and environmental efforts. Lady Bird Johnson was a staunch supporter of her husband and LBJ often leaned on her for her wisdom and the recordings reflect their strong bond.
Directed by Dawn Porter, The Lady Bird Diaries is based on the ABC podcast In Plain Sight: Lady Bird Johnson and Julia Sweig’s book Lady Bird Johnson: Hiding In Plain Sight. The approach to this documentary is very simple. There are no interviews or commentary, just Lady Bird’s audio recordings matched with archival footage and illustrations. There are a couple interjections, including some insight from a longtime personal assistant. But otherwise this is Lady Bird telling us her stories.
Porter do a great job crafting a collection of highlights which range from major historical events to Lady Bird’s personal triumphs and struggles. I quite enjoyed hearing stories and watching footage of the LBJ family personal life including Lucy and Lynda’s weddings and the births of their children. LBJ himself looked so happy being a grandfather. While the documentary is inherently biased because it is coming from just one perspective, I appreciate that it didn’t shy away from some heavy subject matter like the Vietnam War and a confrontation with Eartha Kitt at a White House luncheon.
The intention with this documentary is clear. Lady Bird Johnson’s legacy should be recognized and the person to bring her back into the spotlight is Lady Bird herself.
The Lady Bird Diaries had its world premiere at the 2023 SXSW Film and TV Festival and will premiere on Hulu at a future date.
When Sophie (Amandla Stenberg) takes her girlfriend Bee (Maria Bakalova) to David’s (Pete Davidson) mansion for a hurricane party, their reception is tepid at best. Sophie is out of rehab and had stayed away from her booze and drug loving friends for a bit of space. As the group starts to get acquainted, they play a murder mystery game called “Bodies Bodies Bodies” where its tag you’re dead. What starts off as an innocent game starts to get deadly when friends start turning up dead and the hurricane has knocked out the power and cell phone reception.
Directed by Halina Reijn, Bodies Bodies Bodies is a helluva lot of fun. I attended the world premiere at the Paramount Theatre in Austin, Texas and the crowd roared with laughter. Rachel Sennott has a standout role as Alice, the daft friend whose much older boyfriend Greg (Lee Pace) becomes the first suspect. She’s got some great lines and is really the heart of the film’s comedic core.
When the lights are off, the characters must navigate through darkness guided by only the light of their smartphones. This adds a cool and creepy element to the movie. There is also a delicious twist at the end. Bodies Bodies Bodies offers a great combination of spooks and laughs that is sure to please horror fans.
Bodies Bodies Bodies had its world premiere at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival.
World renowned chef José Andrés’s humanitarian efforts are the subject a new documentary by director Ron Howard. We Feed People chronicles Andrés and his team at the World Central Kitchen as they provide much needed food to communities suffering from aftermath of natural catastrophes.
Andrés is a remarkable chef in his own right with 30 restaurants in the US, several cookbooks, his own cooking show and bragging rights for introducing Spanish tapas to the American dining scene. But his work as a humanitarian has elevated him to veritable hero status. The story begins with the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Andrés heard of the disaster and traveled there to help provide food to Haitians in need. He realized that not only was food necessary for disaster relief, these people needed real meals, not just shelf-stable rations. Andrés realized that meals that could be made on site, were easily transportable and were part of the already established local cuisine would bring sustenance and comfort to the people. The documentary captures the work of the World Central Kitchen in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Marica, Guatemala after a volcanic eruption, the Bahamas after Hurricane Dorian, Arizona during COVID and more.
If We Feed People is the official application for Andrés’s future Nobel Peace Prize it’s a good one at that. Howard’s documentary clearly demonstrated that Andrés is one of the great humanitarians of our time. However it does not glamorize Andrés. We witness the stress, the financial burden and the many challenges that come with the important work Andrés has done. This film will move audiences to tears and hopefully inspire some to take on their own philanthropic cause.
We Feed People is awe-inspiring and simply brilliant.
“I’m good in seeing opportunity when others see mayhem.”
We Feed People had its world premiere at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival. It’s distributed by National Geographic Films.