What Julie Dash’s ‘Illusions’ Can Teach Us About Anti-Blackness and Misrepresentation in TikTok Culture

By Marian Haile

The short film Illusions is a 40s tale set in Hollywood that exposes Black representation in the film industry, specifically the anti-blackness tactics executives utilized to tell Black stories. While the movie follows Mignon Dupreé, a white-passing Hollywood executive in a male-dominated white industry, it is the story of Ester Jeter in the film that is surprisingly telling and relevant to our concepts of anti-blackness and representation in entertainment today. 

Ester is a Black American songstress whose job is to replace the voice of white musical stars lip-synching their way to stardom by using Black talent. While several illusions regarding race, class, and gender are explored and dispelled throughout, Hollywood’s actions of anti-blackness and stealing the work of Black artists is the most striking part of the film. The illusion of it all is the image they want the world to see versus the reality, the person, and the color behind the music. 

Today, it is still commonplace to witness the work of Black creators through the successes of white faces and bodies on a screen. Especially on TikTok–the newest app to hit the market that showcases 60 second creative and collaborative videos worldwide. From the sounds people use to the latest dance crazes, Black creators on TikTok have made their presence known in large numbers with little success compared to their White counterparts. Extremely popular videos, dances, and sounds from Black creators like Jalaiah Harmon, Fousheé, Keara Wilson, Kerrington, Mya Johnson, Dorien Scott, Fur-Quan Powell, Camyra Franklin, and Joey Bailey are just a handful of Black TikTokers that have had their content uncredited and experienced an erasure on the digital application due to the disproportionate algorithm the platform uses.

Through collaborative filtering and the large portion of TikTok having a white audience, it is nearly impossible for little-known creators of color to receive visibility and recognition for their work. Similarly, the app elevates White TikTokers into virality, with numerous individuals being highly promoted stars by simply using Black creators’ content on a social media platform designed in their favor. 

Photo Credit: Teen Vogue

The illusion lies in representation, voice, and credit, further highlighting the gatekeepers of the entertainment industry and on social media. Making many believe that talent comes in a very specific color and model. Similar to Julie Dash—the director and writer of Illusions—it is important to affirm and recognize the works of Black talent by pushing back and calling out the injustices and discrepancies we see in these spaces.

“Now I am an illusion, just like the films. They see me but they can’t recognize me.”

—Mignon Dupreé, Illusions

Marian Haile is a contributing writer for the Pedestal Project, LLC. A literature graduate, she believes that storytelling and analyzing history can assist in developing an understanding of those around us and ourselves. You can follow her Instagram @marianhaile.

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