The following review was written by Briana Williams, a Chicago high school student, as part of Columbia College Chicago's Columbia Links journalism program for high school students. RogerEbert.com has partnered with the Chicago Urban League and Columbia Links to mentor these students and to give them a platform for their writing. Read more about the program here.
“Afraid of Dark"
Directed by Mya B.
A strong beginning with a bystander’s police call of Trayvon Martin being gunned down by George Zimmerman sets the tone for “Afraid of Dark.” You hear the terrified murmurs of the woman narrating the scene to the operator and Martin’s screams in the background right before the gun fires, killing the young, innocent, black male.
"Afraid of Dark," a documentary by Mya Baker, examines masculinity and how men are misconceived in American society. My attention was caught from the very beginning, hearing the heartbreaking phone call reporting a tragedy that catalyzed a movement in African-American communities to help their young black men stay out of a bullet's path. The documentary is full of ideas and explanations behind why black men are typically perceived so negatively. Interviews from male artists, actors and even Baker family members contribute to a plethora of opinions about the stereotypes of black men and evidence of how they are debunked.
“Why are people afraid of dark?” isn’t a question of literal light versus darkness. Dark in this context means black, as in the African-American race. Video plays of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. giving a speech where he exclaims the definition of black is usually characterized by something negative. Then he says: “Well, I want to get the language right tonight.” That assertion from a black male who led the civil rights movement lifts all the young African-American men.
Baker integrates clips of the president, professors and even pictures to help the viewer visualize the point she is addressing. She takes the time to discuss the polygenic theory, which claimed that black men were not of the same species of white men, therefore dehumanizing them and justifying treating them as animals. She explains the story of Ota Benga, the first man to be indirectly experimented on and kept in a zoo so that people could come see him as proof of the polygenic theory. After an intriguing history lesson, Baker interviews men and asks them about their experiences as black men. This is where the documentary becomes choppy.
The interviews are not very well-organized. Grouped by theme, rather than specific question, the interviews are hard to follow and lack depth. Their answers just surf the issues and the questions do not seem to align with the overall goal of the movie. The direction of the film is unclear. As a viewer, I was confused as to what I should know about black men. The film examines what the stereotypes the men fact but does not address how these problems could be fixed. In order to really take away a deeper message from the movie, I would have liked to see more in-depth interviews, focusing on one or two men primarily so that the answers could be more specific. In-depth interviews would have allowed the audience to feel a more personal connection with the people in it and the issues it addressed.
Overall, the movie is a great conversation starter to spread awareness of the black man’s struggle to be viewed positively. It explains the roots of these misconceptions, but it does not come to a resolution.