Invisible Beauty is a film about model, activist, and trailblazer Bethann Hardison, which she co-directed alongside Frédéric Tcheng. The documentary chronicles her early life growing up in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, career in the ’60s and ’70s as one of the only dark-skinned people walking on the runway, and time as a model agency owner before segueing into what has become the revolutionary’s most recognizable calling: activism. Before the words diversity and inclusion became as common as Black and white, the must-watch film shows how Hardison single-handedly took the fashion industry to task when the Black model all but disappeared from runways.
As a young woman full of passion and curiosity, Hardison was discovered by up-and-coming Black designer Willi Smith, who was intrigued by her confidence, expressive personality, and ability to take action. Those qualities would serve her well as she navigated through fashion in the late ’60s and early ’70s, a time when Black models were valued for their distinct presence. Whether it was during the legendary Battle of Versailles, a fashion show held to raise money for the Palace of Versailles that featured an unprecedented number of Black models, or being a trusted ear for designers like Stephen Burrows, Hardison was always a force to be reckoned with. Her strength would be needed when the fashion industry changed and Black models were no longer being sought after or represented.
Without giving too much away, a direct open letter to the industry was presented by Hardison, taking into account the lack of melanin on the runway. The result was a constant state of directed efforts and accountability to change the visibility and trajectory of Black models in fashion. The film also featured lighthearted moments including memorable accounts by some of the models whose careers she either influenced or directly started through her work as the owner of the Bethann Management Agency or the advocacy group The Black Girls Coalition, which she co-founded with supermodel Iman. These superstars include but are not limited to Naomi Campbell, Kimora Lee Simmons, Veronica Webb, and Tyson Beckford.
A multilayered and inspiring film about activism, fashion, women’s history, and staying the course, Invisible Beauty opened on Sept. 15 and is in various theaters across the U.S. for a limited time.
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