Black Barbie (Short) – BFI London Film Festival Review

In short Black Barbie, filmmaker Comfort Arthur explores the concept of lighter skin equated to beauty and the effects it has on young women. Through spoken word, in just four minutes, she relays a young women’s journey, when beauty standards sadly exclude you.

Black Barbie is an animated poem about a young girl’s experience with skin bleaching. As a child she is given a black Barbie doll by her mother, to reflect her own appearance. The young narrator rejects the Barbie, in favour of a white doll, which she believes is beautiful. The girl recounts her experiences of living in a society that tells ethnic women their skin colour, hair texture, and features make them less desirable. With no sense of worth in her appearance, the narrator eventually succumbs to skin bleaching.

The short was written, directed and animated by Comfort Arthur, a young British, Ghanaian film maker and is narrated by Ama K Abebrese who tells her story from self-hatred to empowerment.

Simple this may be but the individual and personal account from a young woman, who has grown up in our society is telling. The effects that having little to no representation in film, TV, theatre, magazines and even in toys and animation can have. The narrator attempts to change her appearance, first through hair straightening and then later with bleaching creams, to conform to society’s narrow beauty standards.

In a short few minutes, the narrator and animation takes you on a journey of pain and isolation through to self-discovery and empowerment. Effective and poignant, the short will give those who are lucky enough to get physical representation an insight into what it is like without it.

The film uses a simple, childlike form of animation to relay the girl’s journey, almost as if the child that begins the story is drawing her own path. This may not be ground breaking but it feels real and suited to both the poem and voice over.

With only one voice heard throughout, narrator Abebrese has injected the poem and short with a whole spectrum of emotions. The frail and isolated girl that begins the poem relays her truths yet finally breaks and builds into a strong woman, free of society’s biased standards. Building her energy to the shorts triumphant end

A short, poetic yet poignant account of how society’s obsession with Eurocentric beauty, can affect ethnic women. Told in simple, yet effective, animation form.

Black Barbie is at BFI London Film Festival 
See it as Country A-Z shorts programme! 

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