A new documentary examining the cultural shift of acceptance toward Black women’s natural features — from fuller lips and hips, to their textured tresses — is sure to be a head-scratcher because of one cast member: Rachel Dolezal.
Dolezal, a white woman, notoriously became the topic of discussion in social settings and media platforms in 2015 when she was criticized for passing as a Black woman. From her knowledge of Black culture to wearing her hair in box braids and textured afros, Dolezal had people fooled into believing she was simply a Black woman with fair skin.
Making her charade that much more believable was her status as the president of the Spokane, Washington, chapter of the NAACP.
“I acknowledge I was born biologically white, to white parents,” explained Dolezal to the hosts of “The Real” after being exposed. “But I identify as Black.” After being labeled an outcast Dolezal lost her job as an adjunct professor at Eastern Washington University and has since earned a living by braiding hair.
“I’ve been called an insult to white women and an insult to Black women. 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,” she told “The Daily Beast.”
So why is she a part of the cast of the “Subjects of Desire” documentary? A synopsis of the project explains that Dolezal is just one of 15 “women who aren’t afraid to challenge conventional beauty standards […] Weaving through the past and present, Subjects of Desire is a culturally significant, provocative documentary film that challenges and ultimately deconstructs what we understand about race and the power behind beauty.”
Other cast members include former Miss Black America winners Ryann Richardson and Brittany Lee Lewis, as well as Grammy-winning singer India.Arie.
Though some people may still be bewildered at Dolezal’s participation in the documentary, director Jennifer Holness stands firm in her reasoning to profile the mother of two.
“It wasn’t a commercial thought. It wasn’t like I thought, ‘Oh my God, if I put her in, it’ll be controversial!’ No, not at all,” Holness told “The Daily Beast.” “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.”
“Subjects of Desire” premiered March 17 at the SXSW Festival, which was online event this year.