On Beauty (NR)

Documentary 32 min. July 24, 2015
By Diana Clarke
The short documentary On Beauty is all surfaces, skimming, lightness, flash. In 30 minutes, director Joanna Rudnick follows high-fashion photographer Rick Guidotti as he travels between the United States and Kenya, where two unusual subjects of his photographs live. Sarah Kanney has a large sunset-colored Sturge-Weber birthmark across her face, and Jayne Waithera has albinism. Both women fall outside conventional beauty norms to such a degree that Sarah had to leave school due to bullying, while people with albinism in East Africa are sometimes killed. Guidotti, whose work has always focused on exteriors and aesthetics, uses his expertise in fashion-world glamour to demand that these women be recognized for the beauty of their faces and bodies.

Guidotti's claim is radical and refreshing, but his most exciting work — a portfolio of stunning, respectful portraits of folks from around the world who are not normatively beautiful — is given little screen time. Instead, Guidotti, whose loud, jovial presence is both engaging and off-putting, focuses on Waithera and Kanney, their lives and struggles. Women are expected — by families, lovers, employers, media — to look beautiful. Those who can't or won't conform to socially acceptable norms are often ostracized. Guidotti believes, rightly, that aesthetic beauty is far more varied than what's visible in popular culture, while dismissing the common, pitiful idea that non-normatively beautiful people are redeemed by their inner beauty. Waithera and Kanney seem like kind, earnest people, and their likability carries the film. But what if beauty weren't an imperative? What if, rather than just expanding the definition of beauty, we stopped demanding that people (especially women) possess it at all?
Joanna Rudnick Rick Guidotti, Sarah Kanney, Jayne Waithera

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