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Tribeca 2022 Review: ‘The Beauty of Blackness’ Fashion Fair Documentary Embraces Getting a Seat at the Table

Tribeca 2022 Review: ‘The Beauty of Blackness’ Fashion Fair Documentary Embraces Getting a Seat at the Table

The Beauty of Blackness is a lovely reclamation of the divine elegance, style, and power that Black women embody. I was a little girl in the 1970s, and my parents were glamorous. In one of my favorite photos of my parents, my Dad is handsome in his Air Force dress and blue uniform, but my Mother steals the show. She is stunning in this fantastic 1970s colorful print long skirt, with an elegant black tight-fitting boat-neckline top with high heel shoes and an impressive afro. Her makeup Fashion Fair. 

Fast forward to 2018, I remember my Mom searching to match her Fashion Fair lipstick that was on backorder for months. The Beauty of Blackness is documentary filmmaking at its best. Directors Kiana Moore and Tiffany Johnson are gifted storytellers. The Beauty of Blackness gives us a clear history of the corporate industrial beauty complex and how it focuses on using whiteness, not only as a standard of beauty but of power. The documentary explores the complex relationship Black women have with corporate beauty in innovative ways.

Watching this documentary reminded me of when the phrase Black is beautiful was the soundtrack of my childhood. The Beauty of Blackness is a time capsule that showcases the tenacity of Black excellence beyond the restrictions of white dominance. 

It is inspiring to know all that the Johnson Publishing Company was able to do with the power of the Black community behind it. We learn about a time when publishing was king and Ebony and Jet magazine were in almost every Black household in America. How could a cosmetic line created by the same company ever lose?

When Fashion Fair went bankrupt back in 2019, Black and Brown women everywhere were disheartened. Many of us wondered what could have happened? We all still loved and supported the brand. Orders were still coming in, and folks were waiting for products to be delivered for months. The documentary does a great job of succinctly unpacking why the original brand went bankrupt without shaming the original founders. 

Directors Kiana Moore and Tiffany Johnson utilize a traditional narrative documentary storytelling style that is emotionally compelling and easy to follow. I loved the introduction and journey of the two women who partner up to buy Fashion Fair, Desiree Rogers, and Cheryl Mayberry McKissack. Talk about lady bosses! Oh, my good life. 

These are Black women who embody style, grace, beauty, and the business savvy that instantly makes the audience want to root for them to be successful. I am always disheartened when I think about all of the Black-owned beauty brands I loved whose products changed when entrepreneurs sold to the majority of white-owned corporations. Fashion Fair doesn’t have that problem, but they did have to deal with a changing culture, launching during a global pandemic, and dealing with supply chain challenges. 

The skilled storytelling aspect of The Beauty of Blackness makes the business process shown in the film interesting to experience and easy to understand. Footage of vintage beauty ads, Ebony Fashion Fair shows, and vignettes combine a wonderful diversity of documentary storytelling styles which accent the narrative effectively.

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One of my favorite moments of the film is when Ms. Rogers discusses a wardrobe choice with a younger Black woman on her team. There was something wonderful about how these two Black women dealt with conflict professionally. Desiree Rogers can articulate her displeasure with the choice, and the stylist can articulate her need for clarity in ways that did not create negative conflict. The directors elegantly captured this interaction and placed it and its resolution into the film at a precise moment that moved the film through a transition seamlessly. It was a moment of great filmmaking. 

The Beauty of Blackness features Kelly Roland recounting the challenges she faced early in her career. Like many dark-skinned female performing artists, Roland had to deal with going on stage to perform in makeup that did not suit her skin tone. She also shares something that I never even thought about, but once Kelly Roland shared her story, it totally made sense. 

In the early years of Kelly Roland’s career, she wasn’t given solo magazine covers because she was dark-skinned. She’d only be on a magazine cover when she was with a group, and never centered in the photo. This moment was particularly infuriating to me. Whenever I’ve seen Kelly Roland from the time she burst on the scene I thought she was the epitome of beauty, style, grace, and glamor. 

Co-directors Moore and Johnson take ardent care of the stories of the Black women onscreen. The level of respect and downright love I felt shine throughout this film made me almost forget that it’s also a commercial. Yet, The Beauty of Blackness is a documentary/commercial I can get behind.

I’m never one to be all rah-rah for a white-owned corporation, but Sephora looks like it is making the effort to partner with this Black-owned business to create a Fashion Fair that will thrive in the 21st century. Another memorable section of the documentary was a multigenerational group of Black women — of all sizes, shapes, and colors — sitting together at one long table sharing their insights on Black beauty in a focus group. 

Baby Boomers, and Gen Xers, spoke about experiencing the Ebony Fashion Fair fashion shows and the power of that red lipstick shade that popped on melanated skin. Millennials and Gen Z’ers didn’t have the same relationship with the brand but were impressed when they heard the history of the Fashion Fair and how its current Black female owners are dedicated to bringing Fashion Fair to the next generation. 

The younger folk shared how creating clean products and having vegan options were vital to their supporting the brand. I witnessed a wonderful marriage of the best of what was old and new uniting to create a new kind of beauty that centers Blackness as abundant, exciting, and yes beautiful like never before. The Beauty of Blackness made me leave the screening feeling buoyantly Black beautiful I am. My mama would be proud.

The Beauty of Blackness is now streaming on HBO Max.

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