Zendaya, Whoopi Goldberg, and Tracee Ellis Ross are the recognizable faces that invite you into Invisible Beauty, a documentary film about Bethann Hardison. Being largely unfamiliar with the inner workings of the modeling industry, the film is an eye-opening look at the struggle for diversity on the runway and in ad campaigns. And this isn’t just a documentary film about Bethann, it’s a documentary made by Bethann, along with co-director Frédéric Tcheng (Halston, Dior and I).
As Bethann Hardison works on her memoir, the cameras are rolling to capture the process. Going through her personal archives, Bethann tells her story. It’s one of a young girl who was taught to view her Black skin as a superpower, taking it to the runway as one of the first Black supermodels, paying it forward by starting her own modeling agency, and then pushing even further by challenging the status quo of the industry. Hers is a story about recognizing a need for change, figuring out how to inspire it, and then working to maintain it.
While Bethann largely tells her own story, there are a few talking head interviews. In addition to celebrities who were inspired by her work, primarily used to introduce and close the film, viewers also hear from her friends, family, and protégés. From her modeling contemporaries like Iman and Pat Cleveland to the generation of models she guided in their own careers (Naomi Campbell, Tyson Beckford, Liya Kibede), you see her ascension from model to businesswoman. And then she throws that life away in pursuit of activism, with interviews from industry insiders like Kyle Hagler (Next Model Management), James Scully (casting director), and Ivan Bart (IMG Models).
Invisible Beauty is approached with the level of artistry that you would expect from someone who spent their life in an industry full of beautiful people and things. The cameras linger on close-up shots of Bethann’s home, highlighting her artwork and tchotchkes that celebrate Black beauty, culture, and history. It provides unspoken insight to who Bethann Hardison is as a person while the narrative chronicles and celebrates her work.
The film makes you want to read Bethann Hardison’s book, which will offer a different take on her story. The film focuses on her, and although she is a co-director, it never feels self-congratulating. Instead, her humility and selfless nature shine through. The book, which will serve as a wonderful companion piece to the film, will instead tell the stories of the people she helped succeed in spite of adversity, weaving together her story in the background of theirs.
I give Invisible Beauty 5 out of 5 stars.
Invisible Beauty premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and is currently in search of a distributor. While there are many possible options, I would be thrilled to see Disney’s Onyx Collective pick it up, especially after seeing how they took Questlove’s Summer of Soul and carried it all the way to Oscar glory.