Thursday, September 13, 2018

A Chronology of Black Dolls on Film


Based on my memory and research, this post is an attempt to document instances when black dolls have been used as companions, props, features, or decor on TV and on film.  Because all occurrences of black dolls used on film are not documented here, readers are urged to add comments on other occurrences of black dolls on TV and on film.  Due to screen captures of paused films and/or photos that were taken of paused scenes, the clarity of some images is suboptimal.  Just like actors, dolls used in entertainment media have rarely been referred to by their own names.  If they are named at all, they are given stage names.  Most of the ones shown here are not identified by name or manufacturer because this information is unknown.  If you recognize a doll, please add a comment to include the doll's name and/or manufacturer.  Thank you in advance.

Imitation of Life
Prior to her rejection of the doll, "Nancy" was given to Sarah Jane in Imitation of Life.

1959 – Imitation of Life.  The biracial Sarah Jane (Susan Kohner) who longed so desperately to be white and her African American mother, Annie (Juanita Moore) are found homeless on the beach before being taken in by a struggling white actress, Lora (Lana Turner) and her daughter, Susie (Sandra Dee).  The first night at Lora’s apartment, Susie and Sarah Jane giggle with excitement as they prepare to play with Susie’s dolls.  Susie hands her black doll to Sarah Jane, who becomes verbally disappointed by saying she doesn’t want to play with the black doll.  She wants the white one and grabs the doll from Susie’s hands.  This upsets Susie as she explains that Freda (the white doll) has been with her all her life.   Discovering Sarah Jane's attitude, Annie reprimands her child, gives Freda back to Susie and hands Nancy to Sarah Jane. On the way to their back-room living quarters in Lora’s tiny New York apartment, Sarah Jane asks why they always have to live in the back after which she drops the black doll to the floor to illustrate her disgust at having to play with it instead of the white doll.  It also symbolizes her rejection of her mother and her black ancestry.

Nancy appears to be one of Horsman's many versions of Ruthie.  


"Where the Woodbine Twineth"
In a scene from Alfred Hitchcock's "Where the Woodbine Twineth," Eva (the role portrayed by the young actress Eileen Baral) pretends to walk her doll, Numa.
1965 – "Where the Woodbine Twineth" originally aired on January 11, 1965, as part of the third season of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.  This episode features the doll Numa (which means spirit).  At the end of the episode, Numa eerily comes to life.  Possibly not manufactured as a black doll, Numa appears to have been a white companion-type doll that was painted black.  See more photos of Numa at the link provided at the end of this post.


Good Times

1970s, exact year of airing unknown – In an episode of the Good Times TV sitcom, Penny (Janet Jackson) becomes frustrated because J J Evans (Jimmie Walker) is going out on a date.  (Penny has a a major crush on J J).  She tries all she can to convince J J not to go.  As he is leaving, Penny takes her frustration out on a cloth doll by whacking the doll multiple times.  For her, this is a learned behavior after being physically abused by her mother on the show (Chip Fields, real-life mother of actress, Kim Fields).  While it was a sitcom about a family struggling to "make ends meet," each episode of Good Times attempted to broach issues faced by ordinary people.


The Bodyguard
A Barbie-type doll (that actually looks like a 1980s-1990s Christie) was used in The Bodyguard.

Additional view of the Barbie-type doll used in The Bodyguard.
1992 – The Bodyguard.  In the opening scenes of this love-story movie, seconds before Rachel Marron (Whitney Houston) goes on stage to sing, someone gives a Barbie-type doll to her.  The doll wears a sash that reads, "We Love You Rachel."  The doll, handed off to an assistant and left behind in Marron’s dressing room (second photo above), explodes shortly afterward.

In a scene that follows the explosion of the fashion doll, Rachel is at home in her bedroom where several vintage dolls are seen in a display case and also in the bed with her as her bodyguard tucks her in before leaving the room.  Images of these dolls follow.

A variety of dolls are in a display case in Rachel Marron's bedroom (The Bodyguard).
Before tucking Rachel into bed, Frank Farmer (Kevin Costner), her bodyguard, gently pushes these composition and cloth dolls to the other side of Rachel's bed (The Bodyguard).

Close-up of some of the antique and vintage cloth and composition black dolls on Rachel's bed (The Bodyguard

Rachel watches Farmer as he exits the bedroom.  The body of one of her vintage dolls can be seen to her right (The Bodyguard).

Farmer exits Marron's room.  A Mama-type composition doll is above Rachel's head. (The Bodyguard).

The Cosby Show


Raven-Symoné's character, Olivia, (the young girl in the center above) holds a box that contains Nitey-Nite Baby by Famosa of Spain (The Cosby Show).
Nite-Nite Baby by Famosa of Spain, made in 1989, is the doll used in "The Getaway" episode of The Cosby Show.
1992 – The Cosby Show.   Nitey-Nite Baby is one of many dolls featured on this TV sitcom about the Huxtable family starring Bill Cosby as Dr. Huxtable and Phylicia Rashad as his attorney wife, Clair.  Their children are Sondra (Sabrina Le Beauf), Denise (Lisa Bonet), Theo (Malcom-Jamal Warner), Vanessa (Tempestt Bledsoe), and Rudy (Keisha Knight-Pulliam).  Rudy’s black dolls are in the background of most early episodes.  In season 8, episode 17, “The Getaway,” as Sondra and her husband, Elvin (Geoffrey Owens), are preparing to move out the Huxtable household into their own place, Olivia (Denise’s stepdaughter, played by the young Raven-Symoné) is seen carrying a box of toys containing Nitey-Nite Baby by Famosa of Spain.  The doll is barely visible in the screenshot, but it was identified by a former owner of a Nitey-Nite Baby during her search a few years ago for a replacement of her childhood doll.  This woman did not know the doll’s name but recognized the doll in the box on this episode of The Cosby Show as being like the doll she longed to replace.  She posted a “want to buy/help with ID” message on an eBay doll message board.  A reader of her post contacted me through eBay asking for my assistance in identifying the doll.  Read more about what happened afterward at the Nitey-Nite Doll link found at the end of this post.

Malcolm X
In the movie, Malcolm X, his oldest daughter, far left, holds a black Raggedy Ann-type doll.
1992 – Malcolm X, the movie by Spike Lee starring Denzel Washington as Malcolm X recounts the early life of Malcolm X from early childhood to his assassination.  A few seconds prior to the assassination scene at the Audubon Hotel where Malcolm was scheduled to speak, the oldest daughter drops her rag doll on the way to her seat.  A man picks up the doll, smiles and says to her (paraphrased), “Here you go my sister.”  The girls and their mother take their seats and the oldest girl is seen clutching her rag doll seconds before Malcolm X appears behind the podium and is callously and brutally assassinated by several men in the presence of his wife and children.  One of the assassins is the man who had given the oldest girl her dropped doll.


Martin
In the background, dolls are on shelves in Gina's apartment (Martin).
1992 – Martin, stars Martin Lawrence and Tisha Campbell-Martin.  On the show, Campbell-Martin is Martin’s girlfriend, Gina, who later becomes his wife.  Prior to their marriage, before Gina gives up her apartment and moves in with Martin, scenes in several episodes were shot in Gina’s apartment which was decorated with dolls.  At the entrance of her apartment, a My Buddy doll and a few other dolls were always present.  A short distance behind the sofa against the wall was a shelf used to display a variety of other dolls (as seen in the photo immediately above).  Tisha Campbell-Martin is said to be a black-doll collector.   Some of the dolls used on the set of Martin were possibly from her personal collection. 

Crooklyn
In this black and white photo of a scene from Crooklyn, the siblings gather to watch TV in Troy's bedroom.  Black dolls are seen in the background.
1994 – Crooklyn, a Spike Lee Joint, is a movie about a 1970s family of seven in Brooklyn, New York.  The mother is a school teacher and the father a struggling musician.   Of the five children, there is only one girl whose name is Troy (Zelda Harris).  Black dolls are seen in Troy’s bedroom where she and her brothers often gather to watch popular shows like “The Partridge Family,” “Soul Train,” and if it is the oldest boy's night to choose what they watch, basketball games.   In contrast to Troy’s all-black dolls, her more well-to-do cousin, whom Troy visits down south during the summer of 1973, owns several dolls, but none are black.


Living Single
This is the Shareen doll as seen in season 2, episode 23 of Living Single.
1994, Living Single, is a very popular sitcom about six 30-something upwardly mobile friends who live in a Brooklyn brownstone.  In season 2, episode 23, “Who’s Scooping Who?”  Regine (actress Kim Fields’ character) discovers a doll named Shareen has been fashioned in her likeness and she goes after the company for royalties.  The unknown doll used in this episode is a Barbie-sized doll with very generic facial features.  The final link navigates to a short segment of this episode that includes the Shareen doll.  

Waiting to Exhale
In Waiting to Exhale, Michael (Wendell Pierce) and Robin (Lela Rochon) are in a bedroom scene with a group of black cloth dolls seen in the background.

An antique black cloth doll is seen in the background in this Waiting to Exhale scene.
1995 – Waiting to Exhale.  Based on the book of the same name by Terry McMillan, this movie is about the lives of four female friends and confidantes.  Though it was never mentioned in the book or movie, the character, Robin Stokes, played by Lela Rochon, is a doll collector.  Dolls are on display in her bedroom and living room.  In the scene where Robin invites a coworker to her apartment, some of her cloth dolls are seen.  Also in the bedroom, an antique black cloth doll is visible in the background as Robin stands in the foreground waiting for her date to enter the bedroom.  Not shown here, Ndebele and other types of black dolls were in other Waiting to Exhale scenes in Robin's apartment.


Eve’s Bayou
Eve (Jurnee Smollett) lies on her bed playing with a stuffed monkey.  A black doll is in the background as are other dolls and toys.  The black doll in the next
An unidentified black baby doll is seated on the floor of Eve's bedroom (Eve's Bayou).
1997 – Eve’s Bayou.  Set in the 1960s in a small town in Louisiana, this movie is about a prominent African American family that includes two members with psychic abilities.  Young Eve (Jurnee Smollett) and her aunt (Debbi Morgan) possess this gift.  One of the aunt’s visions forces the children of the Batiste family into home confinement.  During this time, the children were commanded by their mother (Lynn Whitfield) to remain inside the house where they had to find ways to entertain themselves.  A black doll and other dolls are seen in Eve’s bedroom and the camera pans in on one doll in particular during Eve’s house-restricted status.  If the writer used a period-accurate doll, this doll might have been from Madame Alexander or Vogue's 1960s product lines.


Down in the Delta
Down in the Delta: Annie (Esther Rolle) is seated with her large cloth doll watching TV.
1998 – Down in the Delta.  This movie, starring Alfre Woodard, the late Esther Rolle, Al Freeman, Jr., Mary Alice, and Loretta Devine was directed by Maya Angelou.   It is about a mother of two (Alfre Woodard) who struggles with and overcomes addiction.  In the process of recovery, she and her son discover part of their ancestral history as told to them by her mother and uncle.

Esther Rolle’s character, Annie Sinclair, suffers from Alzheimer’s disease.  Annie’s cloth doll is an almost constant companion for her in the few scenes in which she appears, one of which is shown in the photo above.  Additional scenes of Annie and her doll are captured below:

As she holds her large cloth doll, Annie is being assisted by her caregiver (Loretta Divine) to a chair to watch her favorite cartoon, "Rocky and Bullwinkle" (Down in the Delta).

Right before her unfortunate slip and fall accident, Annie clutches her doll (Down in the Delta).
After Annie's fall in Down in the Delta, she is hospitalized and her doll companion is hospitalized with her.  Annie's nicely dressed doll was probably made from a cloth doll pattern.


Life-Size
2000 – Life-Size, is a movie starring Tyra Banks as Eve and Lindsay Lohan as Casey Stuart.  Casey’s Barbie-type doll (which was Integrity Toys’ Janay) comes to life.

In a Facebook doll group post, David Berry confirms the use of Janay in Life-Size with the following comment:

The first movie was a Janay doll. Rerooted with the same extensions as Tyra and repainted. I know because I did the movie and was responsible for all the dolls. (Official name 'The Doll Wrangler!') There were 12 rerooted repainted dolls and about 20 regular line dolls with redone hair and mix n match Barbie outfits.

Taken to promote the movie Life-Size, Tyra Banks is seen in this Internet-captured photo with several differently dressed Eve dolls.



Woman Thou Art Loosed on the 7th Day 
Displayed in the living room of the Ames' home in Woman Thou Art Loosed on the 7th Day are doll-art sculptures by Chris Malone.
2012 – Woman Thou Art Loosed:  On the 7th Day, is about the kidnapping of a couples' daughter and secrets that unfold over a seven-day period.

The décor in the home of Blair Underwood and Sharon Leal’s characters, David and Kari Ames, includes doll art by Chris Malone.  Close-up views of Malone’s doll art can be seen on his website at the link under Additional Reading. The movie is mentioned on the Shows and Exhibits tab of Malone's website. 

Hidden Figures
In this scene from the movie, Hidden Figures, Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) is in her daughters' bedroom where a black baby doll is stored on a shelf.

Close-up of a baby doll in Hidden Figures

2016 – Hidden Figures.  This movie, set in the early 1960s, is based on the lives of the African American female “human computers”/mathematicians who worked for NASA and played vital roles in America’s early space program.  In the movie, after a long day at NASA, one of the mathematicians, Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) prepares to tuck her three daughters into bed in the girls' shared bedroom.  One of their dolls is seen on a shelf in the background.  This unidentified doll, shown in the two photos above, could have been made by Effanbee or Vogue during the early 1960s.  


Queen Sugar
Queen Sugar:  Blue (Ethan Hutchison) is seen with his doll, Kenya (seen in a stock photo below).

Blue's doll is actually Barbie Style Grace.
2016 to present – Queen Sugar, an OWN network TV series, produced by Oprah Winfrey and Ava Duvernay, is about the struggles of the Bordelon siblings to keep the family’s Louisiana sugar cane farm afloat.  In the first season, with the help of his Aunt Vi, one of the siblings, Ralph Angel (Kofi Siriboe), is raising his young son, Blue (Ethan Hutchison).  Blue has a doll, Kenya, that is his constant companion.   The doll is actually Barbie Style Grace.   See more photos of Blue and his doll at the link below.

Links and Additional Reading:
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16 comments:

  1. This is wonderful, thank you for the information, as well as the memories...Janet as Penny, who can forget? :)

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    1. You're welcome, Romona. It is good to know you found this post informative.

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  2. Cool. On Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Titus Andromedon collects dolls, including The Prettie Girls fashion dolls.

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    1. I'll have to check out Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Thanks for sharing this information, April!

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  3. What a wonderful and informative post! What a sharp (and doll-centric) eye to notice the detail of a doll in films. I had totally forgotten the doll & the role she played in “Imitation of Life.”

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    1. Thanks again, April. "Doll-centric" eye... I like that descriptive term. :-)

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  4. Great article and references!!!!

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  5. A wonderful article and I learned a lot. If you look at the movie/tv special- My Funny Valentine starring Alfred Woodard and the Saintly Switch starring Viviva Fox , you will see the usage of dolls also.

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    1. My Funny Valentine is one of my favorite Loretta Divine movies. I'll have to rewatch if it ever airs again on TV. Saintly Switch is not familiar but I'll look it up and try to view that one too. Thank you MDW.

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    2. Saintly Switch is actually on YouTube! Yay! I better watch it before they take it down and try to monetize it.

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    3. Funny Valentines is on YouTube, too.

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  6. In the Cosby Show numerous Cabbage Patch Kid dolls were shown through out the seasons. They were Rudy's dolls. There was also an episode with the Orange Bossom doll. I recognized it because I also had that doll when it aired for the first time years ago. Thank you for this rich resource of information.

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    1. Hi Ticia,

      The Cosby Show did in fact have numerous black dolls in the early episodes that were Rudy's that were both in her bedroom as well as in the living area seated in a chair behind the sofa. Thank you for sharing that some were Cabbage Patch Kids and Orange Blossom.

      I am glad you enjoyed this post. Stay tuned for a brief part 2 that will hopefully be as equally enjoyable.

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  7. Whoops Orange Blossom not Bossom.

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Thank you! Your comments are appreciated!