The stereotypes surrounding black women and the definition of beauty are explored in Subjects of Desire. The year 2019 was a watershed moment, where the winners of the Miss Universe, Miss World, Miss USA, Miss Teen USA, and Miss America winners were all black women. This goes against the stereotypes that were perpetrated for decades, stating that black women only fit within the three categories of the “mammy” servant, over-sexualized jezebel, or short-tempered sapphire. Filmmaker Jennifer Holness looks at the origins of these stereotypes and how modern black women fight back against them.
Subjects of Desire is a documentary that breakdown the double standards when it comes to beauty, particularly in how black women were historically denied the power of beauty. In fact, the Miss Black America beauty pageant was created in response to a rule for the Miss Amerca pageant saying that contests “must be in good health and of the white race.” In addition to breaking down the stereotypes of black women, Subjects of Desire also touches up cultural appropriation, where white women adopt black styles as their own or in the case of former NAACP president Rachel Dolezal, pretend to be black themselves.
Subjects of Desire is a very comprehensive look at black women and how they have to fight back against the stereotypes that society throws at them. As a white male, I will admit that I found the film to be quite educational, especially in how Subjects of Desire clearly defines the stereotypes that have plagued black women for generations. As stated in repeated Malcolm X quote throughout the film, the most disrespected person in America is the black woman and hopefully, Subjects of Desire is a film that could help change that.
Subjects of Desire is streaming as part of the 2021 Hot Docs Film Festival, with a Big Ideas live-streamed Q&A on Thursday, May 6, 2021, at 7:00 PM
- My Millennial Life
- Hot Docs 2019: Toxic Beauty
- Hot Docs 2019: Willie
- Hot Docs 2018: Warrior Women
- Hot Docs 2018: The Artist and the Pervert