May 2016, News & Features

Faculty spotlight: Prof. Natalie Bullock-Brown

By Amber Hagin

Natalie Bullock-Brown, an assistant professor in the Media and Communications Department, first got the idea for her documentary during a conversation with her 10-year-old daughter about her appearance. Among the things her daughter, said Prof. Bullock-Brown recalls, was, “I don’t like my nose.”

Prof. Bullock-Brown realized that her daughter’s perception of beauty was being shaped by the fact that she attended a school where students were mostly white and Hispanic. The girl had come to see black features such as a wide nose as unattractive.

Prof. Bullock-Brown last June launched a Kickstarter campaign for her documentary film project entitled “Baartman, Beyoncé, and Me.” The film, she explained, is about “how the beauty ideals of a white, racist, male-dominant culture affect black females.” So far, she has raised more than $18,000 with over a 175 people contributing to underwrite the cost of production.

Prof. Bullock-Brown wants to initiate a discussion about the challenges involved in African-American women growing up in a male, white dominant society. She wants viewers to see how history, going back to slavery, shapes current perceptions of beauty.

The “Baartman” in the documentary’s title comes from Saartjie “Sara” Baartman, a “fascinating” woman who was taken from South Africa, and then exhibited across Britain because of her larger body parts, Prof. Bullock-Brown explained. The connection with Beyoncé is to illustrate that the change from freak shows of Baartman days to the present times is not as progressive as it may seem. Beyoncé who is valued today by women as a whole, especially black girls, the assistant professor said. But she added: “If Beyoncé is portraying herself in the way she does by being sexy and showing that to have curves is and should be accepted by society, then she could be considered a feminist. But if she’s just doing it to capitalize on her looks then she shouldn’t be considered as a feminist.”

The ‘Me’ comes from none other than her; her experiences that halted her from feeling good about herself and her image – feelings that began when she was a child when, she said, her own father told her she was “attractive but not pretty.” Now, Prof. Bullock-Brown said, she’s comfortable about her image and is ready to challenge anyone about what is considered black beauty. It should not be based on European standards, she argues.

The documentary is still in the development and research stage. The money raised so far is enough for a short work sample, which she will use in fundraising.  “The total budget is over $500,000.  I need much, much more,” she said.

She is hoping for at least one partnership with a major medium like PBS or HBO.  Prof. Bullock-Brown hopes to complete and release the film before 2020.