By Chanel Cain
Black women sit at a very difficult intersection of race and gender. It can be a very difficult road to navigate. From beauty standards to racial stereotypes, there are a plethora of pitfalls many young Black girls and women can fall into. Through her work, social worker and filmmaker Hawantatu Bangura seeks to make the path easier to navigate.
Bangura’s short film “I Am Black & Beautiful” compiles the stories of several Afro-Australian women, bringing to light their struggles with growing up with western standards of beauty. Interspersed with interpretive dance, the film strikes an emotional chord that is all too familiar with Black women around the world.
One woman describes how seeing icons like Barbie and Cinderella caused her to dislike her own features, stating, “If I’m a princess, shouldn’t I have that nose too?”
Despite the pain, however, the women come out the other side affirmed in their Blackness, made whole by it. The film takes what can be an isolating experience and turns it into something triumphant.
“I’ve got nieces, I’ve got the younger generation that I feel like they need to hear these messages. And how we, as Black women, have overcome some of these challenges to deal with self image insecurities, so that they can learn from it and they can improve their lives as well and feel like they’re not alone,” Bangura said.
Bangura herself grew up in a similar situation to many of the women in her film. Originally born in Sierra Leone, Bangura came to Australia as a refugee at 13. As she settled into her new home, she found herself surrounded by creative opportunities. When her cousin invited her to work on a short film, it lit a flame that had been building for years.
“Whether it was folklore stories that I hear about my dad’s village where we go for holidays, or just watching films like ‘Home Alone’ and other children’s movies during that time, they all inspired me to explore filmmaking,” Bangura said.
The self-taught filmmaker also has a passion for social work, obtaining a degree while still pursuing filmmaking. The dual focus heavily influences her work, as seen by the immense care and compassion present in her short film.
“I always draw from [social work],” Bangura said. “Because the key aspect of that is addressing social issues, social justice and also helping people to reach their full potential.”
Bangura took a story that almost every Black woman endures and turned it into a piece that can provide healing to past generations while breaking the cycle for the new.
“They have to go on that journey of, you know, finding and rediscovering who they are. So that can also take a lifetime. But I say, you know, we have to start from somewhere.”
Tying back into her social work, Bangura wants to foster confidence and self worth in little Black girls around the world. The film sends the message that true beauty lies in the authentic self. Her work lays the foundation for a less bumpy ride into self acceptance.
Watch “I Am Black & Beautiful” on kweliTV.