Lighting the Flame: The Black Girl Project

Lighting the Flame is a series dedicated to recognizing the efforts of organizations that work to empower women and girls across the world. These organizations keep families and communities alive by ensuring that the flames of these women and girls are fully lit and prepared to shine as they begin to tap into the power within.
This weekend I attended a screening of a documentary entitled The Black Girl Project, a film that tells the stories of eight young black women living in Brooklyn, NY. Inspired by her prior experiences working with them and her frustration with the extremely limited perspectives of black women represented in the media, Aiesha Turman set out to produce something that would highlight the experiences of these young women.

With little film experience and even less of budget (she emphasized during the discussion that it was “zero” lol), Ms. Turman produced a piece of work that greatly contributes to the conversation about what it means to be a black girl in America. Her choice of documenting the lives of girls in Brooklyn was interesting as it drew attention to the ethnic diversity of the region as well as diversity within the black community, which is overlooked far too often. As a black girl myself, I'm hyper aware of the media’s failure to show the diverse perspectives and backgrounds of black women. We are consistently bombarded with the same portrayals that don’t reflect the vast majority of us. As one girl put it, we’re either the "bougie", successful black woman who forgot where she came from or we’re the ghetto baby-mother on the block. This film seeks to fill that void.

I appreciated how Ms. Turman started the film with some history of black woman as well as statistics on the current situation for our black girls, some of which we have seen far too many times before. She then moved into the most powerful part of the film: the interviews with the young women. The conversations flowed from girl to girl as each of them shared their perspectives on issues ranging from identity to family and from love and relationships to goals and dreams. Moments from the film that still remain vivid to me:

  • The Haitian girl discussing her new-found pride in her culture after being teased growing up
  • A young woman sharing how she was raped and later tried to commit suicide yet was told by her father that she didn’t really want to die because everyone knows that taking 13 Tylenol won’t kill you
  • One girl stating that she began using bleaching cream at around seven years old because she hated her skin
  • A young woman being called an insecure slut by her boyfriend and sharing that she can’t love herself unless she’s perfect, which she then stated is not going to happen

These are issues our young black girls are facing yet nobody seems to want to talk about. The Black Girl Project is changing that. I couldn’t agree more with what Jennifer Cooke’s review on the website states :

Initially, I would like to thank Aiesha for taking the time and pouring her effort, love and diligence into this project. I really think that a film like this can help jump start important conversations in our communities. Not only between parents and their daughters, but siblings, extended family and people who work within the community. There is an unspoken resilience that young women of color are expected to have. A theft of the wonders of youth and the beauty of innocence and that has to be resolved. These brave young women gave us insight into how much they had on their shoulders at such a young age. Thankfully they had (a) positive influence(s) which helped them negotiate feelings and challenges. I am certain that many other young women that see this will realize that they are not alone and come forth to seek their own support system and embrace their successes.

After the film, Ms. Turman had a Q&A session with us. The documentary was an extraordinary undertaking on her part and was filmed over the course of about two and a half years. During that time, each of the young women were either just going off to college or were in the middle of their studies. She proudly announced that the majority of these young women will be graduating in May of 2011.

Not only has The Black Girl Project greatly contributed to a much needed conversation, but it has also given a voice to each of these young women and provided the support they needed for their lights to shine. Furthermore, it was extremely encouraging to hear that these women continue to pay it forward in their own ways now. To me, it doesn’t get much more powerful than that.

For more about the film, visit The Black Girl Project. Aiesha Turman's work on the film led her to start a non-profit called The Black Girl Project dedicated to "helping our young women and girls develop the skills the need to not only survive, but thrive in this new millennium". Check out the website to learn more about and support the organization.