How one documentary reframes the history of Black women
Oge Egbuonu’s brand-new documentary, “(In)visible Portraits,” is what she calls a love letter to Black ladies, and a reeducation for everybody else.
The 90-minute function, set to premiere on Oprah Winfrey’s OWN on March 2, reconsiders the history of Black ladies in the United States, bring into question long-held misconceptions about them while, at the exact same time, verifying Black ladies as seen, heard and valued.
The documentary deciphers over 3 parts — “hurt,” “resilient” and “beautiful” — and utilizes that structure as a method to trace the story of Black ladies all the method from the physical and sexual assault throughout slavery to present concerns like hair discrimination and the stereotype of the mad Black lady. However the documentary is not just an overarching evaluation of Black ladies’s suffering. Throughout the film, Egbuonu makes a point to highlight the grace, the magic of Black ladies (they are “divine,” says Dr. Melina Abdullah, a professor at Cal State, at one point in the movie).
“We’re taught a revisionist history,” Egbuonu told CNN in a phone interview. “We’re not taught the true history of this country.”
Aunt Jemima, and how society views Black ladies
That “true history” is part of what Egbuonu wanted to uncover. At one point in the documentary, she picks apart the three archetypes of Black women — the mammy, the jezebel, the welfare queen — that frame society’s views of Black women, still to this day.
“Those are all created to dehumanize Black women,” she said. “And also to (cause) Black women to forget their innate power and innate beauty. So until we see different stories…those labels will continue to lead the narrative for how society views Black women.”
“As we work to make progress toward racial equality through several initiatives, we also must take a hard look at our portfolio of brands and ensure they reflect our values and meet our consumers’ expectations,” the Pepsi-owned company said in a statement provided to CNN Business at the time.
‘Reminding Black women of our power’
Egbuonu’s documentary doesn’t stop there.
“Everything was set up for us not to survive,” states Abdullah in the documentary. “Our perseverance, our survival, our resilience is a form of rebellion — refusing to succumb to the oppression that we live under.”
In an interview with CNN, Abdullah put it like this. Black women were brought into the US as cattle, into a White supremacist, patriarchal system, and treated as property instead of as people.
“And I think that hasn’t been fully abolished,” she said.
“This film,” Abdullah said, “is about awakening society to its attempt to make us into mules, and reminding Black women of our power to cast that off.”
But it’s only a first step, Egbuonu said. There needs to be a period of healing, she said, and then a dismantling of the current systems in place in society that have tried to keep Black women, and all people of color, down.
“How can we reimagine what else is possible?” Egbuonu asked. “Because you cannot incorporate diversity and inclusion into a system that is inherently oppressive.”
The next steps
Her movie is not comprehensive, she admits. It doesn’t delve into classism, or the trans Black woman experience, or the disabled Black woman experience. All these stories are where the next steps lead, she said.
Until then, the film is an entry point.
Abdullah watched the completed documentary with her 70-year-old mother in a small movie theater at the end of 2019. When the lights came up at the end, the theater, filled with mostly Black ladies, was completely silent. When she turned to her mother, she was in tears.
“As a 70-year-old Black woman, everything she’s seen of herself, or almost everything, has been diminishing,” she stated.
It’s a testament to both the documentary and the power of being seen, of being allowed to open up. Plus, to leave her mom speechless, Abdullah chuckled, is really stating something.
Jobber Wiki author Frank Long contributed to this report.