In a filmmaking career that is but six years old, Ava Duvernay has a resume that would be enviable to most. Her My Mic Sounds Nice documentary might be the most comprehensive look at the history of female rappers to date. I Will Follow, her much-buzzed about debut, is a hauntingly beautiful portrait of life in the presence of death. And, of course, Middle of Nowhere, which follows a couple separated by prison bars (amongst other things), landed Duvernay the coveted “Best Director” prize at Sundance last year—the first time a Black woman had taken that honor.
Her latest effort, Say Yes, is a lush and beautiful short film for Fashion Fair Cosmetics that takes a glimpse at the life of a young woman (Kali Hawk), as she dares to embrace the agency to make choices—one of them being a marriage proposal from a handsome suitor (Lance Gross). She is surrounded by friends and family of all ages, with one of the most stunning and aesthetically diverse casts of sisters to been seen together on screen.
Partnering with the iconic beauty brand on a film that “explores the power of the affirmative” was a natural fit for the game-changer behind AFFRM (the African-American Film Releasing Movement), who has fond memories of “My grandmother and my mom and the pink packaging.”
Fashion Fair was the brainchild of JPC Founder Eunice Johnson, during a time where women had to mix cosmetics in order to find shades that matched their skin. “The emotional connection for me was thinking of a time when we didn’t have make up,” says Duvernay. “That struck such a cord with me. When I see those old pictures, they were always done. You couldn’t step out the door in just jeans. There was a hat and a bag and shoes and makeup!”
In preparation for the film, Duvernay was invited to visit the Fashion Fair offices and spend some time exploring the cosmetic line for inspiration. “There were so many beautiful shades and colors,” she says. The one that ended up catching her eye was the “Say Yes” lipstick, a rich, creamy pink shade that compliments brown skin beautifully. “I presented the idea to [JPC CEO] Desiree Rogers and she loved it. She named “Say Yes” and we had a great conversation about what ‘say yes’ means to her and what it means to me.”
“I was inspired by the idea of affirmation and how we affirm ourselves…to say ‘yes’ to opportunities, ‘yes’ to experiences when people typically tell us ‘no.’”
Joining Hawk and Gross in their celebration of ‘yes’ are a number of actresses, filmmakers and artists of varying ages, including Lorraine Toussant, Issa Rae, N’Dambi, Julie Dash and Victoria Mahoney, dressed in gorgeous costumes by Nigerian designer Duro Olowu. Oakland-based Afro-Indie collective Bells Atlas, New Zealand songstress Lisa Preston and DC diva B. Jamelle provide the groovy soundtrack.
“I wanted the film to feel intergenerational. There are some elders, some younger women…you see different hair textures, different skin colors, different sexual orientations.”
Duvernay says that she’s honored to participate in a moment that can serve as “an introduction [to the brand] for younger sisters who don’t have a point of context and show what it could look like in a modern setting.” In an era where make-up options for Black women are now plentiful, it is worth “remembering that this is a brand that was made for us,” she says.