SUBJECTS OF DESIRE is an insightful documentary about the beauty standards of black women in American.  It shows the way in which these beauty standards have been used in America to discriminate against black women. For example, are you aware that until a few years ago an African American woman could be legally fired from her work if she didn’t have straight hair? Even though that is not their natural hair. The documentary shows that even though we think we live in a free and tolerant society; but those stereotypes of black women still exist in society and pop culture. At least the documentary shows were taking some small steps to correct these issues.

This was an interesting documentary as I was not aware of stereotypes of black women. I grew outside of the United States. I come from Panama which has a more mixed society and we never had slavery. Many people in my family in Panama come in all color and sizes. I didn’t realize until I immigrated to the USA that my dad would be considered a black man in this country.

The film teaches us about the three different types of stereotypes that exist of black women: Sapphire (Anger), Jezebel (Temptress) and the mommy (Slave). These were horrible symbols that were used to oppress black women. The jezebel stereotype that black woman always wants to have sex were used to excuse that black women could never be raped as they were insatiable sex fiends. The Sapphire is the angry black that is always being angry and sassy. The mommy was the nurturing black woman that takes care of everything in the household. She is asexual and meant to be not attractive. It’s hard to believe; but the documentary shows these characters are still prevalent in our society.

In SUBJECTS OF DESIRE we also follow a group of black young women competing in the latest version of the Miss Black America pageant. The alternative of the Miss America Pageants, as it only allowed white women to compete in the competition until the late 1950s and it wouldn’t have black women compete until the early 1970s. We learn about how talented these black women are; but still must compete against this stereotype today.

This was an eye-opening documentary about stereotypes in America. Especially for me, someone that grew up outside of this society. I was amazed about learning about the story of black women’s looks. It’s difficult learning about these ills in society, but I am glad I watched the film.

Read our interview with director Jennifer Holness!

SUBJECTS OF DESIRE is now streaming on SxSW Online.

This film and many others like it will be showing at the virtual South By Southwest taking place March 16-20th. For more information and to register for the festival, point your browser to!

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