Subjects of Desire film cover (courtesy photo)

‘Subjects of Desire’, a provocative feature documentary written and directed by Jennifer Holness,  screened at the 30th Anniversary of the Pan African Film Festival that took place in Los Angeles this past weekend from April 19-May 1. This documentary has premiered at over 30 film festivals across the world but being supported by the black community is always a great feeling, Holness stated. 

The film covers in extreme detail the history of feminism in America and how that has affected the competition of beauty pageants specifically for Black women. The inspiration behind ‘Subjects of Desire’ came from Holness’s three daughters and their struggles embracing their beauty.

She began to notice when her eldest turned fifteen and struggled with her self image. That transpired creating a documentary to help all three of her daughters to understand the way young Black women see themselves is engineered by society. 

There were parts of African Canadian history and African American history that her daughters along with many young black girls and women were unaware of. Holness believed that teaching them about history will help them gain insight on why it is more difficult for Black women to learn how to find values within themselves.

The Subjects of Desire director stated, “The dominant narrative is designed to diminish us. I want to challenge the system with my work. I want to relook at how we see things. I want black women and girls to rethink how they’ve been made to feel this way.”

Holness reacting to her daughters struggling with internal battles broke her, “I tear up thinking about it.” She noticed that her eldest preferred braids over her natural hair and was unable to receive compliments when they were given by her predominately white classmates.

The eldest revealed that she didn’t believe those compliments were genuine and she was trying her best to fit into the mainstream image of what beauty is. When Holness was younger, she struggled with the same internal battles. Being Jamaican born moving in between Canada and New York she began to notice she was Black and undesirable.

Since she was not fair skinned with straight hair, she too did not fit into the mainstream beauty standards. Being an avid reader at a young age, she learned the dangers of white supremacy and began to dismiss the mainstream dialogue of what beauty is. 

Holness states, “Black culture is so appropriated. Black culture is American culture. Americans have adapted what is our culture and try to own it.” Seeing A- list celebrities reep the benefits of Blackness with not even a thank you to the community who came up with the inspiration and creativity is something Holness believes has to change.

Her proposition to this change is for these companies who profit off of Black creatives to invest back into the Black community. Taking everything and receiving  nothing back is not okay and must change. “It’s very disheartening when so much is appropriated and nothing is going back into the community.” 

Learning about the history of beauty pageant competitions and how that interfered with the feminism movement is what sparked the idea of the pageants being the focus point of the documentary. Holness received permission to film the women featured in the 50th anniversary of Miss Black America and that is where she got her interviewers for this documentary.

It worked out perfectly because out of the six women she interviewed, three of them won the competition. India Arie and Jully Black are the entertainment voices who appeared on the documentary explaining how they have been able to help the average Black woman using their platform. 

Holness is pushing for ‘Subjects of Desire’ to be screened in schools and universities across America. “My film brings a lot of elements together and I think it is a great way for young black girls and women to understand themselves and how to move in this world. It is also a great conversation for white girls and women to learn about their privilege. It can start a conversation about what real allies look like. I think it can be something very helpful for internal self love and external conversation with various communities.”