More self-esteem booster than sociological study, “Dark Girls” combats the negative effects of “colorism” within the black community — discrimination in which women with the darkest complexions are made to feel less beautiful or desirable than their light-skinned counterparts. The fact that such prejudice reps a largely black-on-black phenom demands education and therapy, both of which this disjointed docu-essay attempts to deliver. Mixing contradictory man-on-the-street interviews with soundbites from psychiatrists and academics, “Dark Girls” frames the problem but fails to engage in a compelling way. As such, theatrical exposure will be minimal, with classrooms and television serving as far likelier outlets.
For co-directors Bill Duke and D. Channsin Berry, who spent years collecting the testimony that appears onscreen, the goal is to serve up a dialogue starter, one that sends an unconditional “black is beautiful” message. In order to sway audiences, however, they need a hook: A central character would help (as in “America the Beautiful”), or perhaps a charismatic host (as in “Good Hair”). Instead, pic juggles too many talking heads, accompanied by generic, YouTube-grade B-roll. The kids in particular are heartbreaking and deserved more screentime than the celebs interviewed.