The story of Pecola Breedlove is a haunting heartbreak. Toni Morrison’s first novel, The Bluest Eye (1970), introduces her as a poor, “ugly,” Black woman within the small city of Loraine, Ohio. Right here, the psyches of a Despair-era Black existence are fastidiously constructed, and white supremacy is implied, greater than inflicted, to underscore its insidious warp on the thoughts. Her life is a examine of the White gaze, the way it’s absorbed into self-hate, and the way that hate is projected again into the world. The work, narrated within the third individual by a nine-year-old woman named Claudia, is intricate in construction, lovely in prose, and unapologetic in its message. A timeless providing, it’s arduous to think about what a visible response would possibly entail.
In her brief movie Quiet As It’s Kept (2023), Ja’Tovia Gary captures the essence of Morrison’s fictional account with the identical foreboding precision. The experimental movie, which premiered on the BlackStar Movie Competition in August, simulates Pecola’s descent into insanity in a equally winding narrative composed of shifting footage, interviews, and social media clips held collectively by what feels just like the fraying strands of sanity.
Central to this fragmented headspace is an intergenerational dialog that unfolds between interview segments of Toni Morrison, Kimberly Jones, aka Lil’ Kim, and Dr. Kovahvah Zauditu-Salassie, writer of African Religious Traditions in The Novels of Toni Morrison (2014). Their responses circle each other, by no means connecting immediately however nonetheless completely in sync. In a single scene, Dr. Zauditu-Salassie speaks of an alignment with whiteness as a proximity to hierarchical energy. Within the following clip, Lil’ Kim explains altering the colour of her eyes and hair as “her model,” adopted by Morrison describing her need to put in writing a guide centered on the lives of younger Black folks within the Midwest.
Gary mirrors Morrison’s aspiration to reclaim particular figures, positioning Kim as a modern-day Pecola. Through the years, the rapper has been criticized and ridiculed for a number of plastic surgical procedures which have left her face virtually unrecognizable. In her rationalization of energy, Zauditu-Salassie notes the blame is to not be positioned on “these at midnight however these whose palms are on the sunshine swap.” A revelation that recasts Lil’ Kim’s preoccupation with the superlative as a consequence of the gaze as a substitute of private failure.
Gary employs numerous cinematic strategies and visible cues from the story to create a heightened eerie consciousness. Beginning with the menacing story of the inexperienced and white home with a crimson door, we’re granted entry into the distorted norm of Pecola’s residence life. On this non-existent assist system, the ties that bind are extra of social obligation than real care. The marigolds that refused to bloom seem in all their glory solely to be picked aside and eaten alive. It’s a delicate reminder that some issues are merely past our management. Regardless of the result, Pecola’s child would nonetheless die, and he or she’d nonetheless be misplaced. Scratches within the movie and strokes of paint echo Claudia’s contempt for the anti-blackness she encounters, whereas an omnipresent blue eye bedevils the display screen.
Woven between the layers of dialog are essentially the most up-to-date manifestations of the novel’s prevailing metaphor. In her use of social media, Gary locates colorism, classism, and the spectacle of privilege, reminding us how they proceed to form our actuality. Set in opposition to the menacing perfection of Shirley Temple, viewers are introduced with performances of blackness that may solely be described as trivial depictions of the tradition. These movies eschew nuance and individuality, confining a complete race to sensationalized caricatures. In one other clip, actress Thandie Newton’s mea culpa additional complicates the trade as she oscillates between sufferer and villain, bringing the character of Maureen Peal to thoughts. Within the remaining clip, Azealia Banks appeals to Beyoncé for the precise to remix her hit music “Brown Pores and skin Lady.” In her closing phrases, Banks goads the popstar, calling her “Bianca,” scary us to look at the chasm between accepted visibility and who might be empowered by it.
Given solely seconds to ponder, we’re thrust into the last word break with actuality. Dr. Zauditu-Salassie describes this removing from the gaze because the thoughts’s response to trauma saved within the physique. Gary and Morrison need you to really feel it. The movie ends with a blue-lit liturgical dance that’s arduous to observe and lasts too lengthy. Very similar to studying Pecola’s closing dialogue with herself, the place she believes she’s being taken out of college due to jealousy over her new blue eyes. If truth be told, it’s as a result of she is pregnant along with her father’s little one. Her doomed little soul surrenders to insanity, and the reader is left unwell.
Within the novel’s opening pages, Morrison tells us, “There may be actually nothing extra to say — besides why. However since why is troublesome to deal with, one should take refuge in how.” But, it’s by the “how” that we demystify the “why.” Within the lengthy afterlife of slavery, it’s too late for Pecola and Lil’ Kim, however there’ll all the time be one thing to study from their tales.