As things ease up at home, I thought a good way to ease back in would be to write about my first "daughter" -- my film Naked Acts. Ten years ago, as an independent filmmaker, I ushered this baby of mine into the world. On Sunday, the film has its 10th anniversary screening.
A lot has happened in 10 years.
When my film premiered at the Thalia Theater on the Upper West Side of Manhattan a decade ago, it felt bold and daring to debut a story about a black actress' struggle over taking her clothes off for the camera.
Oprah was our emblem of a black woman struggling with body issues writ large. Angela Bassett was the black actress of our generation, and she'd already drawn her line in the sand: no nudity, never. Too many of us still remembered Vanessa Williams' fall from grace. And we never could have conceived of a world in which a black actress would win an Oscar for a performance that included a nude scene showing her backside in its full glory.
In fact, there was one thing we really never could have imagined: a First Lady who possessed a black woman's body -- curvaceous behind and all -- and didn't try to hide it.
Back then, media images of black women skewed largely negative. Film felt like the most powerful way to counteract those images. There was a lot to counter, namely an endless stream of video hos on MTV, tired variations of boys-in-the-hood films, Martin's loud-mouth girlfriend Gina and Spike Lee's disappointing depictions of women. Girlfriends and Gray's Anatomy were still on the horizon. Tyra Banks was just a model, not a Top Model mogul. And discourse about this skewed media depiction was controlled by those who had the access. Youtube, blogs, Facebook and MySpace hadn't been invented. We just had websites and email. We used words like "eye candy." No one "uploaded" photos from their digital cameras. You could make your own film from a video camera, but who would see it? Had the term "streaming video" even been invented yet?
It was a different world.
So, I wrote and directed a feature-length film to deal with what was for me a growing concern: that black women, with a particular sexualized history in this country, still had a lot to overcome before we could accept and love our bodies. That what writer Rosemary Bray once said -- "My body and I have never been friends" -- was too true for too many of us. That it was time to examine this reality and launch a larger discussion about it. That I could do so by dramatizing one woman's journey from shame of her body to acceptance of it.
Naked Acts resonated with audiences. The film showed for four weeks at that uptown theater, and traveled around the US and to Europe and Brazil and -- most importantly to me -- places on the African continent like Zimbabwe, Burkina Faso and the Cape Verde Islands. Everywhere I went, women told me their stories -- about tortured relationships with, new-found love for, and yes, violation of their bodies. It confirmed my belief in the power of film. It felt cathartic.
But that was then. Naked Acts will have its 10th anniversary screening this Sunday as part of the annual African Diaspora Film Festival in New York, and as the day approaches, I'm asking myself: Is this film still relevant? Or have we triumphantly said goodbye to all that?
Something else has changed of course since I debuted my film a decade ago: I now have an Ethiopian daughter. And while she was indeed born into a different world than the one I found in 1998, I'm taking nothing for granted. So I guess I am glad Naked Acts is still around, to help counterbalance those lingering negative images of black women -- the ones still lurking within our ever-expanding media landscape.
Just in case.
NAKED ACTS screening @ ADFF
Sunday, December 7
Cowin Center @ Teachers College
525 West 120th Street, 147 Horace Mann Hall
Take the #1 train to 116th Street
Q&A follows screening