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“Black Barbie” documentary stars at New Haven film festival’s opening night


Get ready to "doll" up for the Connecticut premiere of the new documentary "Black Barbie: A Documentary." The showing will mark the gala opening of the 2023 New Haven Documentary Film Festival (NHdocs) at 6 p.m. on Oct. 12 at the New Haven Museum.

“Black Barbie” explores Black women's representation in society through the lens of the creation and evolution of the Black Barbie doll. Director and co-producer Lagueria Davis brings the history of Black Barbie to life through her aunt, Beulah Mae Mitchell’s, experience working at Mattel for 45 years.

“The movie speaks to much more than a Barbie doll,” said Gorman Bechard, NHdocs executive director and programmer. “It also speaks to social injustice, discrimination and it speaks to trying to make America a more inclusive country.”

Co-producer Aaliyah Williams, who received a Peabody nomination for her work on "Black Barbie," will be in attendance. Following the screening, there will be a special Q&A session featuring Williams that will be moderated by New Haven radio personality Babz Rawls Ivy.

Bechard said he hopes that “Black Barbie” as the first showing will set the tone for the rest of the 11-day festival. The goal of NHdocs is to create an accessible but diverse and “world class” film festival for the people of New Haven. About half of documentary screenings are offered under a "pay-what-you-can" model. The proceeds generated will be reinvested to support the festival, Bechard said.

“We don’t make money through this,” Bechard said. “It’s a labor of love.”

NHdocs receives financial support from grants, and its recent transition to a nonprofit organization is expected to bolster its financial stability, Bechard said. The gala opening night is co-sponsored by Best Video Film & Cultural Center.

The festival’s collaboration with a handful of other organization entities, like the New Haven Museum, and the New Haven Free Public Library, aims to enhance the diverse and immersive experience for attendees.

“It’s a cross promotion to bring back people watching a piece of art in its designed format: the screen,” said Jason Bischoff-Wurstle, New Haven Museum director of photo archives.

Aiming to bridge the gap and foster a creative dialogue between filmmakers and the audience, some screenings will be accompanied by a Q&A panel with the creators. There will also be workshops for aspiring filmmakers, and a student filmmaker competition.

“The town is becoming homogenous in a way,” Wrustle said. “This festival is helping take people to different corners of the city, to say you can have a good time, do something new, see something new and hang out with someone new.”

The festival’s opening night will feature a party prior to the screening for ticket and pass holders.

Tickets for the “Black Barbie” gala event start at $35 and can be purchased on their website.

“Do not be afraid of us,” said Bechard. “Come down and have a good time.”

Jenna Zaza is a news intern at WSHU for the fall of 2023.