AKA: E Minha Cara
Genre: Docudrama/Cinema Verite
Year Released: 2001
Distributor: Wellspring Media
Running Time: 56 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: 15+
Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: I Am Not Your Negro, Unjust Perceptions: Ethiopia, African American Lives series, Faces of America
-That’s My Face is an autobiographical documentary by director Thomas Allen Harris. He’s also known for his films such as Through a Lens Darkly, Black Body, and Twelve Disciples of Nelson Mandela to name a few.
-Thomas Allen Harris visits Salvador when he enters Brazil. That city is the fourth largest in that country and over 27% of the population are Black Brazilian. Salvador is also the first capital of that country before it was moved to Brasilia.
Researching things about the African diaspora has given me strong feelings. Finding out these things not told at school has been enlightening, yet frustrating knowing about the horrors afflicting all those just because of the color of their skin. Before I did all of this independent research, I remembered watching the first African American Lives PBS special a long time ago where I first heard about the concept of mitochondrial DNA tests. They had people such as Oprah Winfrey, Whoopi Goldberg, and Chris Tucker to name a few take DNA tests to find out where their ancestors were from. It stood out to me like how Chris Tucker found out he was of Angolan descent and visited the country of his ancestors even to this day. It’s a unique phenomenon with people who (those outside of Africa proper, of course) don’t know where their ancestors came from as their names and languages were taken away from them.
One man wanted to find out the roots of his family while also wanting to really wonder about his blackness as a person.
That’s My Face is about filmmaker Thomas Allen Harris. He’s an African-American man from the Bronx, and he had a normal childhood for most of his life, but there were a few things that were strange. For one, he has double vision in one of his eyes, and there have been potential appearances of ghosts involving his ancestors. He wanted to be connected to Africa despite some disagreement with some family members and his community. Thomas was able to go to Tanzania during his youth which impacted him, but he wanted to go further into finding out about people like him. This journey lead to going to Brazil to one of the Black Brazilian communities that had connections to traditional African beliefs and spirituality. He learns something about potential relatives while also challenging his core beliefs in spirituality, humanity, and culture.
This certainly was a unique concept and I was even surprised to find out that it predated that aforementioned PBS special even though it didn’t involve DNA tests. The journey is certainly intriguing and I wanted Thomas to find out more about his heritage. It certainly had its own twists and turns like finding out about the Orishas, him rationalizing his experiences in Tanzania, and wondering what it’s like to be Black in America. One filming technique that caught me a bit off guard was the fact that most of the film was done with a super 8mm camera. It did look more old-school than expected, but it adds to the dreams and nostalgia which worked pretty well when it came to the camera work involved. Without going into spoilers, I did cheer when it got to the part where the quote “He [Thomas] looks like me!” pops up when some people see him which I thought was great. When he’s in Brazil, it showed a side that’s rarely shown in mainstream media. Sure, there’s capoeira, but there were also local ceremonies, dances, and aspects of traditional religions outside of Christianity shown in there.
That’s My Face had a great target goal, but the aim was far from a Robin Hood though. For starters, I wasn’t a fan of the editing and lettering which looked cheap even by early 00 indie movie levels. Some of the twists were less than satisfactory and a bit muddled. I know this was based on real life, but some aspects of his journey were disappointing. There was some faulty information that was given like how Thomas talks about the Hamite myth. I hate to get theological on this review, but that doesn’t exist in the Bible. The curse applied to Canaan instead of Ham and it came from Noah and not God himself. Don’t believe me, then read Genesis. That was a blatant misinterpretation of scriptures that was used to justify slavery and it bugged me how he didn’t do more research on that line. This last issue has nothing to do with the film itself, but with the name of the production company. Guess what Thomas Allen Harris’s production company is called? Chimpanzee Productions. No, Thomas. Just no, man. Hopefully, I shouldn’t have to explain why that’s an unfortunate implication.
Thomas Allen Harris’s autobiographical docudrama had a good thing going, but some elements were certainly squandered. It was fascinating for him to look at his past and travel to different countries as part of an existential confirmation of who he is. The super 8 filming style added a nice aesthetic to this movie. However, I did a few issues with how the story ended up and some misinformation got on my nerves. That’s My Face had an admirable attempt to tell a fascinating story with a good ambition, but some things fell flat. It’s still an alright watch.
Adjustable Point System:
Add 1-2 points if you like documentaries with genealogy involved.
Subtract 1-2 points if you want more facts in your documentaries.
-Nice super 8mm filming
-A unique and relatable goal
-Unique insights onto African-American culture compared/contrasted to other parts of the diaspora
-Mediocre titling and editing
-Misinformation in parts of the narrative
-Implications about Thomas’s production company
Final Score: 6/10 points
Content Warning: That’s My Face would be better for people in their mid-teens and up. The language gets strong in parts with the N-word used a few times. There are some questionable things like some scantily clad dancers during carnival and there are obvious drag queens involved. Some people might have issues with supernatural and borderline occult elements.
All photos used under US “Fair Use” laws. That’s My Face is property of Thomas Allen Harris and Well Spring Media. The movie poster is from IMDb and is property of Wellspring Media.
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