African-American independent filmmaker Alile Sharon Larkin burst onto the fresh and electrifying world of the black cinema movement in 1979 when she completed her production of Your Children Come Back to You while still a film student. After studying creative writing and earning a bachelor?s at the University of Southern California, Larkin entered the M.F.A. program in film and television production at the University of California, Los Angeles. Along with classmates Barbara McCullough and Carroll Blue, together they helped form the second wave of black ?womanist? filmmakers.
Her 1979 film explores issues concerned with the ?blind? assimilation of Western culture. Larkin is perhaps best known, however, for her award-winning 1982 production of the film, A Different Image. Simple in construction but powerful in message, A Different Image explores the exploitation of women?s bodies and the sexism and racism of Western culture?all against a backdrop of ?Pan-African consciousness.?
It is the story of Alana, a young, free-spirited African-American woman, and her best friend Vincent. Though their relationship has always been platonic, Vincent allows himself to become influenced by an older male friend, who teases him about not having ?gotten over? on Alana. Vincent?s world is the real world: billboards adorned with erotic images of scantily clad women dot the highway; men?s magazines exploit the sacredness of the female body. Larkin intersperses this imagery of sexism and exploitation with a montage of other images; that of photographs of black American and African women of all shapes, sizes, hues, dress, and ethnicity?including women of cultures where various states of undress are the norm and not a means of exploitation and for the selling of products.
In a moment of supreme weakness, Vincent attempts to molest a tired and sleeping Alana who accuses him of rape. He has violated the sanctity of their friendship. Noting his stack of Penthouse magazines, she cries at him in desperation: ?We see you! Why can?t you see us??
A Different Image received a great deal of well-deserved accolades and a good measure of recognition, including a first place award from the Black American Cinema Society. Though largely well-received, Larkin?s work has also endured some criticism. As she has noted in various interviews, she was sometimes maligned by ?radical feminists,? who would have preferred that her work contain more of a general condemnation of black men. Some felt that she should align herself with white women against patriarchy. Larkin is very clear in her position on these and
Like her contemporaries, Larkin concerns herself with much more than simply ?women?s stories,? but seeks to explore themes rarely dealt with realistically by the mainstream film industry. Issues of assimilation, Western beauty standards, sexism, stereotyping, and the history of the African-American experience are appropriate fodder for her work, just as they are for many black women filmmakers. Black women filmmakers, too, share the same difficulties, most notably the challenge of procuring funding for their work.
In addition to her work in film, Larkin is a videographer and has produced or co-produced material for television. Larkin is a co-founder of the Black Filmmakers Collective. This group of independent filmmakers, with a grant from the California Foundation for Community Service Cable Television, produced the 1984 cable program My Dream Is to Marry an African Prince. It focused on the effects that racial stereotyping has on the psyche of young black children. ?I believe it is important for Black people to control their own image,? she states, ?Black people working in the established ?Western? film industry do not have the power that we [independent filmmakers] have.? In 1985 she began an examination of racism and sexism in contemporary Christianity in the production of What Color Is God?
In 1987, through a commission from the Woman?s Building, she produced Miss Fluci Moses, a documentary of the life of African-American poet and educator Louise Jane Moses. This presentation was screened on cable television. Larkin, a stanch advocate of children?s education television in 1989 formed NAP productions for the purpose of producing quality education children?s television and video.?