What’s on the other side of this will… it’ll ruin you forever.
— Starkeisha’s Reflection / Inner Critic
A few images of black girls looking into mirrors are prominent in my memory. Versions of Beyoncé dance-off in one of her Pepsi commercials (2013), Spellling reposes in a photo series by Catalina Xavlena (2018), Red and Adelaide face-off in Us (dir. Jordan Peele, 2019), and most recently, Starkeisha faces her inner self in a short film of the same name (dir. Mo McRae, 2022). Each of these mirror images is at once exhilarating and horrific, baptizing unexpecting black girls in darker, altered versions of themselves.
Starkeisha presents a young Black woman named Starkeisha Mary Jenkins (portrayed by debut actress Dom Chanel) who’s trying to assimilate to white corporate culture. She’s just finished psyching herself up for an interview at a ritzy law firm when a fall knocks her unconscious. At this juncture, she suddenly awakens in a room of mirrors — her sleek straight hair now transformed into a thick short afro, and her business-casual garb replaced by a fitted spacesuit. Two voices structure Starkeisha’s experience of her own internal universe: there is The Voice (provided by actress Vanessa Bell Calloway), a disembodied, godlike entity who offers cryptic guidance toward self-love, and there is Starkeisha’s reflection, a trickster-like presence who rallies for assimilationist dreams. With the sweetness of The Voice and the snark of her new reflection as foundations, Starkeisha eventually escapes the mirrored room by being the magic — embarking on an odyssey of personal growth and ancestral connection beyond the echo-chamber of her self-consciousness.
Starkeisha’s reflection (a.k.a. her inner critic) repeatedly asks: Shouldn’t you be trying to get out of here instead of having all this fun? But the short film takes this question as its point of departure rather than its thesis. McRae’s film suggests having fun is not mutually exclusive with getting free, and furthermore, one’s ability to have fun can lead to a higher capacity for freedom. Perhaps people who trust each other enough to have fun together are also better prepared to fight together.
The liberationist themes and representations of Starkeisha align with Reverend Andrew Rollins’ description of Astroblackness. Astroblackness being an Afrofuturist movement “in which a person’s black state of consciousness […] becomes aware of the multitude and varied possibilities and probabilities within the universe” (Anderson & Jones, 2016, p. vii). I have my critiques of Starkeisha, for its oversimplified invocation of natural black hair as a symbol of black consciousness, for its over-reliance on Western space-opera aesthetics to establish Starkeisha as a futuristic character, and for its missed opportunities to build cinematic mood and tension, but I appreciate its reflection of a pivotal moment in Afrofuturism.
I’m inclined to note that it’s a bit too obvious that this film is a response to curated music compilations (see: the Music For The Movement EP series), as evidenced by how its narrative potential often loses out to its conceptual ambitions (which reify rather than reinvent cliches of Afrofuturism). But as Starkeisha herself comes to understand, there’s no harm in having fun. This film still offers poignant revelations along the way.
References / Further Reading:
BOOK: Afrofuturism 2.0: The Rise of Astro-Blackness, ed. Reynaldo Anderson & Charles E. Jones (2016)
ARTICLE: “AFROFUTURISM 2.0 & THE BLACK SPECULATIVE ART MOVEMENT: Notes on a Manifesto” by Reynaldo Anderson (2016)