Beulah Mae Mitchell spent 45 years working at Mattel. In the late 1970s, she began asking a simple question: “Why not make a Barbie that looks like me?”
In “Black Barbie,” Mitchell’s niece, the documentarian Lagueria Davis, explores the 1980 debut of the company’s first Black Barbie — as well as the internal advocacy that preceded it and wider questions of cultural representation.
At 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 11, “Black Barbie” will be featured as part of the 32nd Annual Whitaker St. Louis International Film Festival. Showcasing the best in contemporary cinema, the festival will include more than 100 narrative features and full-length documentaries, as well more than 170 short films, at venues throughout the city.
The Film & Media Studies program in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis is a presenting sponsor, and more than a dozen screenings will take place in WashUs Brown Hall Auditorium. Other campus sponsors include the Center for the Humanities, the Department of African and African American Studies and the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, all in Arts & Sciences.
Screenings will begin in Brown at 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 10, with “Space Race,” which explores the lives and legacies of the first Black pilots, engineers and scientists to become astronauts. On Nov. 11, screenings will include “Black Barbie” as well as “Bike Vessel,” an exploration of health disparities within the Black community; and “The Body Politic,” which follows Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott in his quest to reduce gun violence.
On Sunday, Nov. 12, WashU will screen “Razing Liberty Square,” about climate gentrification in Miami; “Racist Trees,” about the battle to uproot a section of tamarisk trees in Palm Springs, Calif.; and “Ellis,” a profile of New Orleans composer, performer and educator Ellis Marsalis Jr.
Screenings will continue Nov. 17 with “We Dare To Dream,” about refugee athletes from Iran, Syria, South Sudan and Cameroon; and Nov. 18 with “Birthing Justice,” “TransMexico” and “First We Bombed Mexico.” Concluding the series, on Nov. 19, will be “A Mother, Youngsoon” and “King Coal.”
Several of the above are presented as part of the Human Ties spotlight, organized by the Center for the Humanities. Other Human Ties screenings include “Master of Light” (Nov. 15) at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis; and “The Apology” (Nov. 10), “Sandtown” (Nov. 14) and “We Have Just Begun” (Nov. 15) at Alamo Draft House. In addition, Zachary Manditch-Prottas, a lecturer in African and African American studies and in American culture studies in Arts & Sciences, will take part in an opening-night panel discussion about the 50th anniversary of hip-hop.