(In)Visible Portraits

Movie review by
Barbara Saunders, Common Sense Media
(In)Visible Portraits Movie Poster Image
Black women explore, challenge life-shaping ideas.
  • NR
  • 2020
  • 92 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

The strongest message is that Black women are beautiful and resilient. Viewers also learn not just about historical events but about the history of ideas. Artists and scholars give context for historical footage and testimony of women talking about their own lives.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Images of a Black woman reading poetry and another painting a canvas are interspersed with analysis by Black women scholars and Black women and girls from age 10 to 70+ talking about their lived experiences. 

Violence

Potentially upsetting depictions of violence and abuse appear in historical footage, including Civil War-era photo of man with scars on his back from being whipped, film footage of police brutality during civil rights era in the 1960s. Prolonged discussion of rape of women and young girls during antebellum era and beyond. Footage of a woman who speaks graphically about her son's death while he was in police custody.

Sex

Discussion about how women are reclaiming their sexual choices and expression, using examples such as the persona of Beyoncé.

Language

The "N" word appears in images of newspapers and other printed historical artifacts. 

Consumerism

Advertisements for consumer products, commercials, images from popular culture are included to illustrate the scholars' points about how Black women are portrayed.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that (In)Visible Portraits, the directorial debut of Oge Egbuonu, is a documentary that examines how ideas about Black women affect their lives. Images of a Black woman reading poetry and another painting a canvas are interspersed with analysis by Black women scholars and Black women and girls from age 10 to 70+ talking about their lived experiences. Potentially upsetting depictions of violence and abuse appear in historical footage, including a U.S. Civil War-era photo of a man with scars on his back from being whipped and film footage of police brutality during the civil rights era in the 1960s. There is prolonged discussion of the rape of women and young girls during the antebellum era and beyond. There's also footage of a woman who speaks graphically about her son's death while he was in police custody. Expect discussion about how women are reclaiming their sexual choices and expression. The "N" word appears in images of newspapers and other printed historical artifacts.

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What's the story?

(IN)VISIBLE PORTRAITS uses four distinct sources of information about the position of Black women in American society: historical footage, scholarly commentary, artistic expression, and testimony by ordinary Black women about their lived experiences. After an introductory segment about the history of how Black women have been (and continue to be) portrayed, perceived, and stereotyped, individual women and girls share their strategies for cultivating positive self-esteem, empowerment, and self-love.

Is it any good?

After a slow start, this documentary goes deep. In about the first third of (In)Visible Portraits, director Oge Egbuonu gives the audience a download of information about the history of Black women in the American imagination. Then the film picks up as women and girls express the emotional realities of living as a Black woman -- from salvaging their own dignity to protecting their children. Viewers may feel righteous anger about some of the material presented, but the overall message is one of hope.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the power of ideas. How do the women in (In)Visible Portraits use words and ideas in an attempt to influence reality? 

  • Why do you think the director included poetry reading and the process of painting a portrait in the film?

  • Why does beauty so often play a key role in women's self-esteem?

  • What makes this film an example of positive representation? Why is representation important in the media?

Movie details

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Themes & Topics

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