The SXSW festival took place this past week, where artists of all industries, including film, music, and gaming, converge to showcase the best of what the arts have to offer. During the film section of the festival, a documentary called Subjects of Desire by director Jennifer Holness premiered. The film follows the North American shift of beauty ideals to those that embody Black female aesthetics, discussing how these features are often overlooked or seen as less desirable on Black women and yet praised on white women.
Exploring perspectives from both sides of the spectrum, the film includes a personality you might be surprised to see talking about Black beauty: Rachel Dolezal. In the film, Dolezal says she was forced into a “white mold” and had her spirit “repressed.”
“I’ve been called an insult to white women and an insult to Black women,” Dolezal says. “White women are angry because I did what they never would do and went further, like I put 110. I didn’t just be that white ally and do a little bit, I canceled my white privilege. I canceled my hair. For Black women, I feel like it’s a reaction to pain. It’s like a trigger to post-traumatic stress.”
While many found it strange that director Jennifer Holness included Dolezal in the film, she believes her perspective had to be included for a well-rounded discussion about appropriation and Black beauty standards.
“It wasn’t a commercial thought,” she told The Daily Beast. “It wasn’t like I thought, ‘Oh my God, if I put her in, it’ll be controversial!’ No, not at all. I’m doing a film on Black women and beauty and this is the first time that I’ve come across a white woman pretending to be Black for 10 years when there wasn’t a massive financial benefit.”
Watch a clip from the documentary below.