Black Girl in Suburbia

Black Girl in Suburbia

Melissa Lowery '09 debuts her feature-length documentary, "Black Girl in Suburbia," about the experience of growing up black in suburban Oregon.

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“There are a lot of assumptions about what you’re like, who you’re supposed to be,” Lowery said. “There are lots of different experiences like that we talk about in the film.”

A group of teenage girls in the film talk about the stereotypes they deal with on a daily basis. 

“Everyone just assumes that I know how to dance,” says one young woman. “I used to be able just to dance freely … but I just don’t want to dance anymore. I basically stopped dancing, like, three years ago.”

“I choose not to do certain things that are associated with black people,” says another. “I honestly don’t drink Kool-Aid, because it’s a stereotype.”

Older women in the film say they’ve dealt with the same struggles — trying to figure out how to be themselves amid assumptions about who or what they should be.

“You can’t act a color,” says one of the interviewees.

“There’s no one black experience,” adds another. “There’s no one suburban experience. There’s no one female experience.”

Lowery sums it up on camera: “Black Girl in Suburbia is an experience shared by many, but not in the same way.”

IN SEPTEMBER 2011, LOWERY POSTED A TRAILER FOR THE DOCUMENTARY ON YOUTUBE. The first email comment was short and hateful.

“I was like, ‘Oh, OK.’ I don’t know why I wasn’t thinking of opposition. I know there are people out there who take pleasure in that,” she said. “There were a few more like that, then all the comments were of support from women all over.”

Lowery had set out to tell a story that would help her young daughters see that they weren’t alone. But she found that she had tapped into an untold experience shared by women across the country.

“This is my story,” said some.

“I can’t believe you’re talking about this,” others wrote. “I’ve never shared this experience.”

Her hope, now, is that the film can start honest dialogue, starting in her own community in Hillsboro, where her family now lives. The film premiered June 7 at the Walters Cultural Arts Center in Hillsboro and her daughter’s school expressed interest.

Already, she said, she’s found new angles and audiences she never imagined: The mother of a biracial child who didn’t know what challenges her daughter faced at school. A young woman who was adopted from Africa by a white family and who felt disconnected with her heritage.

“Now it’s out there, and people are wanting it and needing it,” Lowery said. “The purpose of the film now is really to make people aware of things they might not be aware of from people of different backgrounds. 

“To start a dialogue, just to talk, became my goal.”

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