Through a Lens Darkly | Chicago Reader
Renee Cox, Yo Mama's Pieta

Renee Cox, Yo Mama's Pieta

Through a Lens Darkly

This ambitious and heartbreaking documentary tackles no less mammoth a subject than the African-American identity as it exists in photographic imagery. Director Thomas Allen Harris begins with his own family, sharing photos from their personal albums and explaining how his father obsessed over offsetting the racist images in advertising and entertainment by ensuring that his children appeared as white as possible; he then explores both the ramifications of black misrepresentation in visual media and the role of black image-makers in history. As Harris mixes autobiographical and historical subjects, his film combines personal video essay and traditional documentary forms to fascinating effect. Certain subjects are skimmed, but no single film could fully explore such a vast topic; the effort and its conclusion—that all black images are a kind of "family album"—are powerful enough.

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