“People are just amazed,” said Kiri Davis, 17, the Manhattan public school student whose powerful short film about race, self-esteem and cultural identity has stunned audiences and educators, and won the hearts of film festival judges around the nation. “Even at 4 and 5, you can still tell what America values and what it doesn’t.” Fifteen of the 21 black children in a Harlem day care center who take the “doll test” in Davis‘ seven-minute film choose the white doll over the black one. The film – “A Girl Like Me” – re-creates Kenneth Clark’s 1940s doll test that was used to fight school segregation in the landmark Supreme Court case Brown vs. Board of Education. In Clark‘s studies, he and his wife, Mamie Clark, found that the majority of black children they tested chose white dolls over black dolls and ascribed negative attributes to black dolls.
Five decades later, Davis, a senior at Manhattan‘s Urban Academy High School, assumed things had improved – especially in black cultural meccas like Harlem. But her film, punctuated with black teen girls discussing their relationships with their skin, their hair and their community, illustrates how the converse is true. Her study was conducted in 2005. “You can tell someone all you want about standards of beauty and how they’re affecting someone’s self esteem and yada yada yada,” Davis said. “But until you figure out a way to actually show someone, that’s when I think people really get the message.” A “Girl Like Me” was produced through Reel Works Teen Filmmaking, a nonprofit organization based in
Brooklyn‘s Prospect Park YMCA that paired Davis with a mentor, taught her basic skills and then helped her to market her film.
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