Tracy Likes This One: The Latest Speed Cinema Picks

Elina Patrakka. September 2019. Kangasala.

Black Barbie August 10 & 12, 1 p.m. $12 | $8 Speed members Speed Cinema www.speedmuseum.org/cinema   

It has been a lot, living through the Barbie Blitz of the past few months. Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling charming their way onto all the screens, big and small, leading the way to a box office phenomenon for Hollywood and Mattel. But before you put away your pink heels and call it a night, take a look at the point where racial justice and doll culture meet, and make room for “Black Barbie.”

In this documentary, Lagueria Davis brings the story of Black Barbie to the forefront of toy history. The hero of the film is Beulah Mae Mitchell, the director’s aunt who spent 45 years on the line at the Mattel Toys factory. It is Beulah’s collection of Black dolls that gets Davis curious about the origins of Black Barbie. It was not until 1980 that the official Black Barbie was made, and Beulah was there on the floor, quietly pressuring her bosses, and cheering on Kitty Perkins, the young Black designer finally hired to create her. 

Talking to collectors, historians, sociologists, pageant winners, and superfans, Davis uses archival footage from her aunt’s collection to trace the history of Black Barbie, and thoroughly explores the need for representation in the Barbie line, as well as critiquing Mattel’s current  approaches to the idea of diversity in today’s lineup.

It’s also a movie about working and workers. Talking directly with the designers and factory workers, the film lets them speak for themselves, airing their grievances and sharing the ideas behind the designs they created and the toys they made together. Using doll stop motion animation to illustrate the sociological problems, and corporate drama behind the scenes, the film is playful about serious ideas and issues. It is a good think piece to watch alongside the Barbie movie, illuminating the racial politics behind representation and commerce. 

A sidenote: Louisville’s historic Western Library has a collection of homemade dolls in the African-American Archives. These dolls were made locally and modeled after historic figures like Gwendolyn Brooks, Mae Street Kidd, Georgia M. Powers, and many more powerful Black men and women. 

click to enlarge Elina Patrakka. September 2019. Kangasala. - Vilja Harala
Vilja Harala
Elina Patrakka. September 2019. Kangasala.

Finntastic: New Finnish Cinema - Sunday Showcase Speed Cinema www.speedmuseum.org/cinema Free

Sihja, the Rebel Fairy (Sihja-kapinaa ilmassa) August 13, 12:30 p.m.

Aalto: Architect of Emotions August 20, 12:30 p.m.

Tove Sunday, August 27, 12:30 p.m.

What do you know about Finnish cinema?  Aki Kaurismäki and his Leningrad Cowboys? The evil Santa in the cult Christmas horror film “Rare Exports?” The Finnish Film Foundation has created a touring program of new films to help moviegoers expand their knowledge of Finland. Finntastic: New Finnish Cinema is coming to the Speed Cinema as a series of free Sunday Showcases and features three films by a new generation of women filmmakers. 

The series begins with “Sihja, the Rebel Fairy,” a scrappy little children’s film featuring a nature-loving tween out of step with his peers, and a 4000-year-old rowdy fairy who has left her home to investigate a chemical company poisoning her forest. They must do battle with a ferret-loving villain who looks a lot like Barbara Crampton, company men, and some mean girls. A fish out of water comedy in the style of “Drop Dead Fred” but scored like “Stranger Things,” this is a good gateway film for kids who need to develop their subtitle reading skills, and for adults who enjoy silly kid antics and a Finnish landscape. 

“Aalto: Architect of Emotions” tells the story of Finnish architect and designer Alvar Aalto, going beyond the recognizable buildings he designed as one of Europe’s most celebrated architects. Director Virpi Suutari turns the story towards Alvar’s first wife, Aino, and brings this accomplished designer and wood worker to the forefront. The influence Aino had on her husband’s work went without recognition in her lifetime, and this documentary aims to celebrate their fruitful collaboration. This marriage between creative people created a Scandi architectural style that has went on to spread around the world.  

Finntastic will conclude with a biopic celebrating the life of one of Finland’s most famous artists, the creator of the Moomins, Tove Jansson. Set in post-WWII Helsinki, “Tove” tells the story of this classically trained artist who created a wildly popular comic strip world full of fantastic and lovable creatures despite her renowned sculptor father’s strict ideas about high art. “Tove” is a film about the art life and post-war creative culture in a Russian-occupied land, and most surprising of all, it’s sexy!  Tove’s love life is adventurous and boundary-pushing, and its influence on her path to independence is low-key thrilling. This is a lovely period piece about a place and time rarely seen in the U.S., and a new classic of Finnish film. 


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