You know how when you were a teenager you felt out of control in your changing body, your emotions were a roller coaster and you were convinced that your parents just didn’t understand what you were going through? You know as an adult how confusing life always is, how you lie to yourself about being satisfied when you’re not, how bored you are when young people treat you as if you were an ignorant idiot who had never experienced anything? “Alma’s Rainbow” knows this well. Ayoka Chenzira’s underrated 1994 mother-daughter comedy-drama has received a 4K restoration and is back in theaters.
The film revolves around a mother and daughter who regularly butt heads but go through parallel coming-of-age journeys. Mother Alma (Kim Weston-Moran) celebrates the 10th anniversary of her barber shop opening while wistfully thinking of other roads she might have taken, trying to avoid a suitor’s advances and contemplating to pursue another. His daughter Rainbow (Victoria Gabrielle Platt) is in the midst of puberty, uncomfortable with her developing body, disturbed by the way boys her age treat girls, and determined to keep dancing. Rainbow experiences what may be her first sexual awakening just as her mother rediscovers her own sexuality. Audiences can clearly see how much Alma and Rainbow have in common, how they should empathize instead of downplaying each other’s feelings – it’s just a shame they can’t see it themselves.
The rift between Alma and Rainbow widens when Alma’s sister, Ruby (Mizan Kirby), returns home to Brooklyn after spending a decade in Paris. Free-spirited, especially compared to her serious and responsible sister, Ruby encourages Rainbow to pursue her passions and explore her sexuality, roughly in diametrical opposition to Alma’s insistence that her daughter focus on the school and keep your legs closed. Ruby also reminds Alma of her own childhood dreams. The sisters had a cabaret act before Rainbow took the stage; Ruby continued to seek fame and excitement, and Alma decided to put her energy into providing for her daughter.
And that’s essentially the gist of the film: three black women arguing, bonding, navigating their own desires, and clashing with each other’s expectations. It’s a simple story full of affection and empathy for its characters, a subtle celebration of the inner lives of black women, really. So while it’s not a mainstream (read: white) culture classic, it’s obvious that “Alma’s Rainbow” resonates so deeply with the likes of Ava DuVernay and Julie Dash, the latter featuring the new restoration. Not only is it one of the first feature films produced and directed by an African-American woman, but you can feel her influence in later titles that display a respect for interpersonal dynamics among black women – “Eve’s Bayou,” “Love & Basketball”, “Insecure”, “Middle of Nowhere” by DuVernay.
Now, with its reissue and accompanying press, “Alma’s Rainbow” may inspire a new generation of artists. It’s just a shame it took so long for the movie to get the stardom it always deserved.
The new restoration of “Alma’s Rainbow” is now in theaters.