You know how when you were a teenager, you felt out of control in your changing body, your emotions were a rollercoaster, and you were convinced your parents just didn’t understand what you were going through? You know, as an adult, how life is still confusing as ever, how you tell yourself little lies about being satisfied when you’re actually not, how annoyed you get when younger people treat you as if you’re a clueless idiot who has never experienced anything? “Alma’s Rainbow” sure knows. Ayoka Chenzira’s unsung 1994 mother-daughter dramedy has received a 4K restoration and is back in theaters.
The film revolves around a mother and daughter who regularly butt heads yet are going through parallel coming-of-age journeys. Mother Alma (Kim Weston-Moran) is celebrating the 10th anniversary of her hair salon’s opening while wistfully thinking about the other roads she could have taken, trying to avoid the advances of one suitor, and considering pursuing another. Daughter Rainbow (Victoria Gabrielle Platt) is in the middle of puberty, uncomfortable with her developing body, disturbed by the way boys her age are treating girls, and intent on pursuing dance. Rainbow is experiencing what is possibly her first sexual awakening just as her mother is rediscovery her own sexuality. The audience can clearly see how much Alma and Rainbow have in common, how they should be commiserating instead of minimizing each other’s feelings — it’s just too bad they don’t see it themselves.
The fissure between Alma and Rainbow widens when Alma’s sister, Ruby (Mizan Kirby), returns home to Brooklyn after spending a decade in Paris. A free spirit, especially compared to her serious, responsible sister, Ruby encourages Rainbow to devote herself to her passions and explore her sexuality, pretty much in diametric opposition to Alma’s insistence that her daughter concentrate on school and keep her legs closed. Ruby also reminds Alma of her own youthful dreams. The sisters had a cabaret act going before Rainbow came into the picture; Ruby kept seeking fame and excitement, and Alma decided to put her energy into providing for her daughter.
And that’s basically the gist of the film: three Black women arguing, bonding, navigating their own desires, and bumping up against 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 — despite it not being a classic in mainstream (read: white) culture — it’s obvious why “Alma’s Rainbow” resonates so deeply with folks like Ava DuVernay and Julie Dash, the latter of whom is presenting the new restoration. Not only is it one of the first features produced and directed by an African American woman, you can feel its influence in later titles that display a respect for the interpersonal dynamics among Black women — “Eve’s Bayou,” “Love & Basketball,” “Insecure,” DuVernay’s “Middle of Nowhere.”
Now, with its re-release and the accompanying press, perhaps “Alma’s Rainbow” will inspire a new generation of artists. It’s just a shame it took this long for the film to get the spotlight it always deserved.
The new restoration of “Alma’s Rainbow” is now in theaters.