Subjects of Desire (2022): Jennifer Holness’ Documentary about Black Beauty

In Subjects of Desire, the 50th Miss Black America pageant explores cultural changes from past stereotypes of Black womanhood — the “Mammy,” “Jezebel” and “Sapphire,” as categorized in Holness’ feature documentary debut — to today’s Black girls and women embracing African aesthetics, from Black natural hairstyles to skin tone.

Jennifer Holness
Courtesy of Carlyle Roth
Jennifer Holness

“The film is saying some of the things Black women were ashamed of actually are really special and wonderful,” says Holness of her film, which had its world premiere this year at the SXSW Film Fest.

As a writer, producer and director, Holness has tackled hot issues and untold narratives around Black stories. “I’ve never chased money,” she says. “I’ve chased artistic voices.”

Her doc producing credits include CBC and PBS’ Badge of Pride, about gay cops, and CBC’s Speakers for the Dead — a co-directing effort with fellow Black Canadian helmer and business and life partner Sudz Sutherland — which reveals the hidden Black history of Ontario.

A self-taught indie producer, Holness has seen her reputation soar with Subjects of Desire. “I’m at the top of my game,” she declares.

Picked up by TVO and Crave, Subjects of Desire received special presentation at Hot Docs, April 29 to May 9.

She claims she was inspired by such Black filmmakers as Ava DuVernay, Spike Lee, Darnell Martin

In the future, she plans to make “An Origin Story,” for History; No Harm, a feature documentary about Black women dying in the medical system for CBC.