Subjects of Desire Parent Guide
This is a film full of questions - about beauty, race, and justice.
Parent Movie Review
Holness takes an expansive view of her topic, starting with a discussion of black women’s physical appearance. The film covers the lead up to the 2018 Miss Black America pageant and features multiple interviews with some of the contestants. Listening to the women share their experiences in navigating white culture, in trying to look “less ethnic” in order to win, can be painful. Worst of all are the childhood experiences of racism, when young Black girls found themselves compared to monkeys or lions or had classmates who insisted on playing with their hair. Anyone who hasn’t considered the long term effects of childhood racism will find these discussions illuminating.
Physical appearance isn’t all that Holness wants to talk about. She’s very interested in cultural tropes that serve to weaken black women’s power, focusing on three primary stereotypes: Mammy (happy, docile caregiver), Jezebel (hypersexualized and uncontrollable), and Sapphire (angry black woman). By reducing Black women to tropes, their opinions and concerns are automatically delegitimized and simplistic portrayals of them are more easily packaged and monetized.
Not only does Holness reclaim the originality and power of black women, she tackles the issue of cultural appropriation. She briefly examines the case of Rachel Dolezal, a white woman who pretended to be black, before delving into the widespread adoption of black beauty ideals by white women. As one woman complains, “American pop culture is diluted black culture. Take what black performers have been doing for years and put it on a white girl and call it a trend.” The bitterness and exasperation are palpable as Black women see their beauty ideals ignored until they are appropriated and monetized by white culture.
Parents or teachers can comfortably show this documentary to teens, but there is enough negative content that it’s unsuitable for kids. The only real problem here are clips of highly sexualized dancing – some scenes featuring women with fully exposed buttocks and barely covered nipples gyrating in sexually explicit poses. It’s not porn but it’s also not appropriate for young viewers. For teens, however, this doc could be a valuable tool for helping them question cultural norms and being more generous in viewing themselves. And that can’t be a bad thing.Directed by Jennifer Holness. Starring India Arie, Jully Black, Alexandra Germain, Brittany Lewis. Running time: 102 minutes. Theatrical release September 23, 2021. Updated September 23, 2021
Watch the trailer for Subjects of Desire
Subjects of Desire
Rating & Content Info
Why is Subjects of Desire rated Not Rated? Subjects of Desire is rated Not Rated by the MPAA
Violence: There is mention of rape and murder. There is brief mention of police shootings.
Sexual Content: Non-expicit movie clip of woman raped by a white man. There is discussion of a rape case. Brief video cips of lewd dance moves by scantily clad women. Brief picture of a nude African woman.
Alcohol / Drug Use: Women drink wine in a social setting.
Page last updated September 23, 2021
Subjects of Desire Parents' Guide
Articles about beauty and blackness include:
CodeSwitch: Is Beauty in the Eyes of the Colonizer?
The Guardian: The beauty industry is still failing black women
Popular Science: Beauty standards are literally toxic for women of color
Glamour: Your Race, Your Looks
For more about Miss Black America, you can read the following:
The Washington Post: “You can be unapologetically black”: How Miss Black America has endured 50 years
The practice of white women appropriating black beauty ideals is known as “blackfishing”. Do you think it’s a compliment to Black women or an insult? Do you think cultural appropriation is ever ok? Why do you think it offends Black women? You can read more about it here:
Related home video titles:
The pursuit of idealized beauty poses risks for many women. The documentary Toxic Beauty exposes dangerous chemicals found in cosmetics and personal care products.
Misbehaviour is set in the 1970 Miss World competition and explores two different groups of women: White British women who are convinced that the pageant objectifies women and Black contestants from developing nations who see it as a way to achieve their career dreams.
“Black girl magic” is the literal heart of Fast Color, a movie about a young woman with astounding powers over nature and minimal ability to control them.