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Black dolls are beautiful: Film explores race and childrens toys • Brooklyn Paper

Black dolls are beautiful: Film explores race and childrens toys

Reel dolls: Filmmaker Samantha Knowles has created a documentary examining the social significance of black dolls through a little-known community of black doll enthusiasts.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

Eat your heart out, Barbie.

A thought-provoking filmmaker is showcasing a documentary about black dolls that probes why beauty and cultural identity are tied to the too-rare inanimate creatures.

In the film, Brooklyn-based director Samantha Knowles interviews dozens of females — kids, artists, and collectors — about their bond with black dolls and discovers that the objects are more than just playthings.

“They really have a certain weight,” Knowles said. “They remind us of our heritage and that we are beautiful.”

Knowles also explores the fact that cloth-and-plastic ladies of color are not as present on toy shop shelves as their lighter-skinned counterparts, which can deprive black youths of a “positive representation” of themselves, she said.

Knowles asks interviewees, “Why do you have black dolls?” — a question inspired by a childhood experience in which a friend couldn’t understand why she preferred a toy that looked more like Beyoncé than Barbie.

The documentary now offers an interesting glimpse into a unique niche of collectors who are not interested in the “cookie-cutter dolls you’d find in Walmart,” Knowles said.

It will air at the 15th annual Reel Sisters Film Festival — an event dedicated to supporting movies made by women of color — which Knowles said helps fuel a conversation about the significance of dolls as ethnic artifacts.

“It’s a way of reclaiming our history and heritage,” Knowles said.

“Why Do You Have Black Dolls?” at Kumble Theater for the Performing Arts [1 University Plaza, between DeKalb and Flatbush avenues, (718) 488–1624, reelsisters.com]. Oct. 14, 5 pm. $7.

Reach reporter Natalie O'Neill at noneill@cnglocal.com or by calling her at (718) 260-4505.

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