Local filmmaker examines the high price of beauty

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After racking up awards at film festivals across the country, Darryl Roberts will premiere his documentary, America the Beautiful, in Chicago this weekend.

The film, which examines the detrimental standards of beauty set by the fashion, cosmetics and plastic surgery industries, plays at the Landmark Century Centre Cinema, 2828 N. Clark St., from May 9 to 11. Roberts, an Englewood native, admits that the film addresses an issue that is usually deemed as a traditionally white problem, but said that Black women are becoming increasingly affected.

“The machine%uFFFDI call it. Advertisers…they’re hammering away, and it’s crossing the cultural lines now. The one thing Black girls could go to in the media was music videos. Well MTV, VH1, they stopped showing these music videos. Now all you’re getting are the model-looking girls that the media is perpetuating,” he said.

But is it a stretch to say that music videos are a good thing for young Black women? “I’m saying they are both (good and bad), the lyrics in a rap song are absolutely misogynistic. But if you turn to young Black girls, they also will tell you that the bodies of the women, the physicality of the women, reaffirms that their body is beautiful,” Roberts said.

The film’s protagonist, 6-foot-1-inch Gerren Taylor, is young a Black and female introduced as a rapidly rising 12-year-old supermodel. But her career declines just as rapidly when, at 14 years old, she becomes a size 4 and the industry labels her too fat. “They took this really young girl and sexualized her, and turned her into a star.

When they determined she was beautiful, her self-esteem was high. When they threw her away, she developed an eating disorder,” he said. “It was brutal. There’s a point at which it made me mad at what I was doing. I’m a documentarian and this is what I do, but at what point do you become a human being, drop the camera and try to help this person?,” Roberts said. Roberts does offer a fair amount of help, or at least knowledge, throughout the film.

“We show how a lot of famous plastic surgeons are not even trained, they’re just doctors who got into it to make money. Look what happened to Kanye’s mom. Her surgeon was non-board certified. We also take a look at poisons and toxins that are in cosmetics that women use. Different organizations have said that they cause allergies and cancer in women but the United States refuses to ban them,” he said.

“I wanted to show what the problems are, and from there we can come together and start fighting.” But Roberts, who has trained with renown improvisational comedy group The Second City, said that America the Beautiful handles its heavy material with a light tone, and employs a lot of situational comedy.

“I studied comedy, so I think it’s a part of my personality. If you take any message and wrap it in humor, you’ll get people to swallow it quicker, he said. Roberts, a 22-year media veteran, has been an entertainment reporter for NBC, a commercial and music video director, and has written and produced two films: The Perfect Model (1986), and How U Like Me Now (1993).

He said that America the Beautiful exposes what he sees in the media everyday. “I was really knee deep in advertising and fashion, and I really saw how sick it was,” he said. The only remedy, he said, is self-love.

“Everyone has something unique and beautiful about them, and if we make that our value system for beauty, a magazine can’t take that away from us,” he said.

______ Copyright 2008 Chicago Defender. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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