Shadow Life: Shining Through Colorism and Depression

Miranda Kahn | USA | 2018 | 6 mins




Shadow Life: Shining Through Colorism and Depression is a short documentary that cuts between an interview footage of Shaina Simmons, a young woman who has struggled with mental illness, and a stop motion animated shadow puppetry imagery of her story.

Shaina, a young performing artist who grew up in New Orleans, suffered from colorism and racism which led to anxiety and depression.

With extraordinary strength and clarity, Shaina explains her degrading youthful experiences, and through Kahn’s lyrical puppetry, we come to understand how deeply our perceptions of someone can change how they perceive themselves.

Our tears join Shaina’s as she fights back her emotions, “I don’t think we realize how we affect one another”. There are also moments of hope and love as when Shaina leaves her viewers with an advice ending with, “Just breathe through it.” Kahn’s visuals are both specific and lyrical, juxtaposing black silhouettes with bright saturated colors.

The film was funded by Glassbreaker Films who aim to find, fund and support the next generation of women-identifying leaders in non-fiction documentary films. It tells the story of a woman of color struggling against prejudice who ultimately finds a path toward healing and self-love.

This film is about the strident beauty standards women face, especially as they relate to race. It is about the burdens women face relating to mental health. This film definitely represents women’s voices.

About the Filmmaker

Miranda Kahn is an experimental paper artist, actress, filmmaker and puppeteer committed to social justice. Kahn’s work aims to create original, interdisciplinary performances and film which evoke social change.

Kahn received her BFA in Acting from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and her MFA from The California Institute of the Arts. Her short film “Love in the Time of Toxicants” was featured at the American Public Health Association’s 2017 conference film festival.

More from the Filmmaker

I have made it my mission to make art that investigates mental health in an honest and heartfelt way with the aim of destigmatization and celebration of the strength of supporting one another through storytelling. I conceived of Shadow Life because so many people in my life, and I myself, had suffered so much with mental illness and I felt like there was so much stigma around talking about it.

Mental illness was either sensationalized or wasn’t taken as seriously as other medical ailments, and I felt that was because of the stigma surrounding it and so I wanted to do something about it.

This film is important not only because of the mental health aspect, but I feel that the issues of colorism and racism that Shaina discusses in her interview, are so timely and important to talk about.

I decided to animate the interview with my shadow puppetry because I feel like shadow puppetry -the essentialization of form into silhouette – speaks to the issues of colorism and racism by allowing us to see past color to shape. I work with shadow puppetry in large part because it speaks to me as a form.

I have always loved the act of creating with paper. Always, somehow, I understood it, intuitively, even if I didn’t know how exactly to make something, I knew that if I worked with it long enough I could figure out how (or something more interesting would emerge).

My way of working with paper is the opposite of how I grew up existing in the world as a woman. I tend to think carefully about the things I do and say, exhaustively. When I create with paper, I don’t think. I am inspired and I create.

This film was directed by a woman, is produced by a woman and features the story of a woman. I feel very proud of the issues that are investigated and how we investigated them. I hope you will find as much inspiration from Shaina’s words as I have.


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