You know you’re watching a groundbreaking documentary when it not only forces you out of your comfort zone but also manages to persuade you to reassess your point of view without resorting to potentially alienating polemic. This is the case with Biracial, Not Black, Damn It!, a poignant, thought-provoking and ultimately, most-enlightening film directed by the brilliant Carolyn Battle Cochrane.
The product of a mixed marriage herself, Carolyn sets the tone during the opening credits of her labor of love when she wistfully states, “My mother is the most incredible role model, and she’s a White woman.” This matter-of-fact comment is, at first blush, slightly startling, since she looks like a sister and, let’s face it, we’ve all been culturally conditioned to see anyone who’s even partially Black as simply all Black.
However, the picture subtly implores you to rethink that reflexive tendency to lump biracials and Blacks together unfairly. For instance, who wouldn’t be moved after hearing Carolyn, while sitting on the steps of a brownstone in the “’hood,” confront another’s prejudice with, “I think the tragedy is when you shrug your shoulders when I say it’s an identity issue.” This insightful observation by the filmmaker is only one of many by a variety of biracial adults, teens and children about what it feels like to be pigeonholed in a country with a color line when you undeniably actually happen to be equal parts Black and White.
Overly embraced by African Americans as if solely their own, yet kept at a distance by Caucasians for not being purebred lily-White, the subjects of this exposé tend to find themselves languishing in a limbo neither of their liking nor making. “I don’t know why we have to choose,” one interviewee says tearfully. Another, who refuses to deny half of her heritage, asserts, “When you say you’re Black, when you’re really mixed, you’re passing for Black.”
Again and again, the theme of ethnic identity is addressed in a revealing manner, from the White mother who wonders, “How did I give birth to just Black kids?” to the innocent little girl often asked by strangers what color she is who perplexedly looks down at her own arm and shrugs, “a tannish color.”
Nonetheless, there is much hope on the horizon for this invisible segment of society more in search of understanding than sympathy. After all, the census reflects that biracials are the fast growing demographic in the nation, hence, the spirited discussion, here, about Barack Obama, indicting the president for passing up a priceless opportunity to put biracial Americans on the map.
“He talks about ‘change’ but wouldn’t change constitute teaching White people that he is of them as well as Black?” one participant suggests. “Why doesn’t America, Black or White, want to see him as biracial?” asks another.
Credit Carolyn Battle Cochrane for having the guts to pose the tough questions about a taboo topic to elicit the heartfelt, sobering reflections from members of a momentarily marginalized group collectively poised to emerge as the face of 21st century America.
Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 141 Minutes
Distributor: Battlecatt Productions