The black diasporas’ corporeality is the mise-en-scĕne of filmmaking for most black women filmmakers. As they constantly challenge the limits that narratives and films make through the ethnographic cinematic creativity that they do, they call on the imperialist cinematic discussions that are all true in racist relationships (Bobo 25). Since the period of the discovery of fame of Hollywood and television as a mainstream source of the availing of western entertainment, filmmakers all over the world have continuously depicted the miscegenation of racism and threats that are not only threateningly tragic but optimistically conflicting. In her 1988, UK-based autobiographical film, incongruously and paradoxically named Coffee Colored Children, produced by her younger brother Simon Onwurah, the British filmmaker Ngozi Onwurah has created a personal glossary of beautifully crafted images that are meant to evoke the pain and confusion that is felt by a black child growing up, in traditional racist Britain, with an English mother and a father of Western African Decent (Coffee Colored Children).
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The movie has an influential study on the strong impact that the cultural pressure of the imposed self-image. Basing her argument on her daily experience and familiarity of her many incidents of racism among them as children, she recollects the ache and uncertainty of the trend of many white families, where children are brought up by white mothers but their black fathers are absent in the bringing up of the children (Bobo 28). The movie does open with grownups and many children of different cultural ethnicity relating harmoniously, this serves as a description of the contradictory scene, where she recounts the brutal and racist vandalism of their home while growing up.
Coffee-colored children is a poetic and rhythmical black and white short movie in which the aggression, pain and degradation of poverty and humiliation of the children’s mixed background are entirely expressed. The narrator ensures that the outlook in this movie is heightened by the scene where she alludes to documentary practice and behavior by presenting framed photos and pictures of the children who are experiencing racial harassment from an uncompromising environment. The presenting of these ghastly memories is embodied in the experiences of a young, black girl who grows up with the pain and humiliation that are recorded and craftily enacted in every scene. The director throws the shackles of racism and discrimination on the feet of the young “mulatto” girl “who is constantly told that she is neither black nor white but a hybrid. Seeking her identity thus becomes the primary goal in life” (Corrigan 111). The black children thence try to scrub themselves with harsh scrubbers, in the hope that they will “cleanse the blackness away” (Corrigan 114).
The director uses sounds, ambient tracks and voice-overs in order to look at the internalized feelings of the adult actors with regards to their current racial situation. By using the Point-Of-View of the adults, one of the brothers in the movie explains how he could redraw himself while in class, but with a white face. The sister, too, expresses how she would lie in bed and think of herself as a “white princess” or some sort of a “white wonder woman,” in order to escape the reality of being black (Corrigan 98). The film is heavily laden with extradiegetic noises of heavy scrubbing and washing, indicative of the woeful tries by the black children to rid themselves of their “blackness.” Voices of the narrator can be heard saying “who am I talking to now…My child?” (Corrigan 114) subsequent to voicing her love to her child, the storyteller then vows that “the man that I am in love with maybe white but the father of my child is black” (Darlene 56). Even as they sing “Ba ba, Black Sheep,” the children still continue to self-mutilate with solutions of peroxide and cleanses, trying to wash off their skin tone (Darlene 59). In unflinching pain, the director presents the multiple voices that are representative of the tragic pain that is felt by the young, black child, quickly turning this pain into desperate urgency.
A close-up of the brother and sister as they try to recount their childhoods presents the audience with the chance to recount the racist pain and corporatism as is experienced by the young, black child. The close-up of the racially profiled children, and adults, “is turned back upon the body of the perceiver in such a manner that it affects and alters the body, instead of merely constituting a series of representations, for the spectator to recognize” (Foster 57). With the close-up of the black body, the visual pains and pressure that is stumped on the children as well as the crescendo of the problems that arise out, the difficulties that are inherent in the bringing up of racially mixed children are palpable.
Bobo, Jacqueline. Women Filmmakers of African & Asian Diaspora. New York, NY: Kent Gallery, 2001.
Coffee Colored Children. Prod. Simon Onwurah, Dir. Ngozi Onwurah, Perf. Carol Kane and Lesley Warren. Short documentary. Rovi Data Solutions, 1988.
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Corrigan, Timothy. Short Guide To Writing About Film, (7 ed). Chicago, IL: Pearson/Merrill Prentice Hall, 2009.
Darlene, Wendy. Introducing Social Approaches, Quarterly Journal of Speech. Portland, Oregon: Addison-Wesley, 2008.
Foster, Gwendolyn. Black Women Film & Video Artists. New York, NY: Kent Gallery, 1997.