Alma’s Rainbow: Make a Wave, by David Bax
Ayoka Chenzira’s Alma’s Rainbow, newly restored, is a coming of age movie. In most ways, that means exactly what it implies, a story of a kid–in this case, Victoria Gabrielle Platt‘s Rainbow–growing into a new understanding of the world and her place in it. But we are almost immediately introduced to one of the more empirically relatable aspects of growing up, a changing body. Chenzira‘s not going for gross-out puberty comedy here, though. Rather, she explores the female-specific dilemma (the first of many in this vibrantly feminist film) of the world altering the way it sees you if you show your changing self to it or, conversely, the world judging you for not changing if you hide (in Rainbow’s case, using a mixture of bandage wrap and oversized clothing).
Baggy clothes, at least, are in keeping with the outfits worn by Rainbow’s three person dance crew, of which she is clearly the most dedicated and ambitious member, running practice sessions in the park with vigor, much to the consternation of the conceited teammate (Keyonn Sheppard) who believes himself to be the squad’s main attraction. But performing is clearly in Rainbow’s blood, as evidenced by the influence of her bohemian aunt Ruby (Mizan Kirby), an actress. But Rainbow’s hairdresser mother, Alma (Kim Weston-Moran), would rather her daughter focus on more practical pursuits.
Those aforementioned outfits worn by the dance crew are just one electric neon example of one of Alma’s Rainbow‘s biggest strengths, its costume design by Sidney Kai Innis. The clothing fills every shot with loud color and varying textures but always with intent, never chaotic or distracting. These characters are bold women and they dress accordingly.
And they are, by the way, almost all women. That isn’t to say there aren’t men in the movie. In addition to the boys with whom Rainbow dances (Sheppard and Roger Pickering), there’s Blue (Lee Dobson), the handyman who sets afire the passions of all the women who come to Alma to get their hair done. But Alma’s Rainbow is chiefly a movie about the worlds women must carve out for themselves, relying on and investing in one another. The intoxicating presence of men like Blue doesn’t reduce these women. On the contrary, the movie approves of them pursuing their carnal desires, making Alma’s Rainbow a third wave feminist text.
Rainbow herself, though, isn’t quite sure if she’s ready yet to embrace that part of womanhood. Alma’s Rainbow says that that’s okay too. Everyone comes of age at their own pace.
Alma’s Rainbow‘s restoration was overseen by the Academy Film Archive, Film Foundation and Milestone Films and it’s presented by Julie Dash. The quality of work is worthy of all of those big names.