In recent years, the International Black Film Festival of Nashville has notched up programming coups — guest appearances by director Charles Burnett, the U.S. premiere of native Chad filmmaker Mahamat-Saleh Haroun's Cannes prize-winner A Screaming Man — even as it has tackled taboo themes. This fall it may do both in a single screening, as the festival has landed the U.S. premiere of one of the year's most controversial documentaries.
Dark Girls, directed by actor-director Bill Duke (Deep Cover) and D. Channsin Berry, is scheduled to screen Oct. 8 at the sixth annual IBFF. Already drawing considerable attention — and heat — on the Internet, the film examines the ugly issue of colorism and in particular its impact on women. A topic of outrage in the black community, colorism is the prejudice shown toward dark-skinned African-Americans, often by those with lighter skin.
The movie features interviews with women from the U.S., Cuba, Haiti, Latin and Central America and Africa, whose candid discussions reflect often painful experiences and feelings. As their testimony shows, dark-skinned women have often been shunned, mistreated and persecuted, and many have internalized the cruelty they faced. One woman in the trailer remembers asking her mother to pour bleach in her bathwater, while another recalls scrubbing angrily at her skin as if it were unclean.
"Both Bill and I grew up dark-skinned guys in New York and New Jersey respectively," Berry says. "When he called me with the idea to take a look at how the question of skin color is still affecting women in societies across the board, I told him I'm in for sure. But we want people to understand this is a film about both triumphs and problems, pain and celebration. We look at both sides of the question in terms of impact."
Still, the trailer that's aired online has triggered tremendous debate, with some commenters accusing the filmmakers of manufacturing controversy and revisiting resolved issues.
"Since when has pain been something that should be ignored?" Berry responds. "I think the people who don't want to discuss this are either misguided or deliberately being callous. This whole question of 'colorism' isn't something that we created, and it isn't a new issue. It is still happening in many societies, and trying to pretend that it's not an issue because some people don't want to acknowledge it is just foolish. Our film is providing a forum for women to express themselves and to talk about what they've suffered."
What may shock viewers, Berry suggests, is how far the prejudice extends. "You've got women in places like Haiti and in African countries using bleaching cream on their skin," he says. "Then you have light-skinned women going to tanning centers and having plastic surgery done on their lips. The damage colorism is doing is so widespread I can't understand why anyone would want to pretend it isn't an issue.
"As men, especially black men, we've damaged the two things that are most important to us, black women and the earth. We've got to start restoring and healing those things in order for us to be healed as men."
The documentary's Nashville premiere is already raising interest in the festival, which runs Oct. 5-9 at a location to be announced. In the meantime, the IBFF concludes its summer series 5 p.m. Saturday with the romantic comedy Politics of Love. Directed by William Dear (Harry and the Hendersons), it co-stars Brian J. White and Bollywood star Mallika Sheraway as a mismatched couple whose attraction may not overcome their vast political differences.
Set shortly before the historic 2008 election, Politics of Love also features Loretta Devine, Gerry Bednob and screen legend Ruby Dee. It will be shown at the Bill and Carole Troutt Theater, 2100 Belmont Blvd. More information is available about the movie and the upcoming IBFF festival at ibffnashville.com. There is also an IBFF Facebook page, and you can follow the festival on Twitter: @IBFFNashville.
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