Magazine article The Crisis

Teenager's Documentary Reveals Stereotypes Still Exist

Magazine article The Crisis

Teenager's Documentary Reveals Stereotypes Still Exist

Article excerpt

Kiri Davis is only 17 years old. And A Girl Like Me, the provocative film she directed, is merely seven minutes long. Yet the budding filmmaker and her award-winning 2005 documentary, which examines how Black teenage girls grapple with self-esteem in the face of mainstream beauty standards, have sparked a conversation that resonates across the globe.

In Davis' film, several New York City high school girls share candid reflections on the stigma assigned to women with darker skin tones and natural hairstyles. She was inspired to do the film after producing an anthology on life through the eyes of Black girls for her high school, the Manhattan Urban Academy.

"In my interviews, we talked about racism, their love lives and self image," she recalls. "But the beauty standards issue kept coming up."

Reel Works Teen Filmmaking, a Brooklyn-based non-profit organization partially funded by HBO and Time Warner, teamed Davis with Shola Lynch. Lynch was director of Chisholm '72: Unbought and Unbossed, the 2004 documentary on Shirley Chisholm's 1972 presidential campaign.

The most startling moment in A Girl Like Me occurs when Davis performs a doll test for Black children. The tests were patterned after experiments conducted in the 1940s by psychologists, Kenneth and Mamie Clark that served as the basis for the landmark Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education. Davis asked 4- and 5-year-olds at Harlem day care centers whether they preferred Black or White dolls; 15 out of the 21 children chose the White doll.

"I thought that after 50 years, more Black dolls would be chosen, but children understand what America values and they mirror it," Davis says. …

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