Documentary about local race issues points to broader issues

by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: JOANN BOATWRIGHT - Melissa Lowery of Hillsboro greeted guests who attended the first showing of her film Black Girl in Suburbia Saturday.Just as she’d hoped, the premier of Melissa Lowery’s film, “Black Girl in Suburbia,” sparked plenty of conversation.

The Hillsboro resident debuted the film last Saturday, June 7 at the Walters Cultural Arts Center, where friends, family members and complete strangers laughed in agreement, nodded with recognition and wiped away a few tears.

“Black Girl in Suburbia,” a documentary addressing issues of growing up as an African American in predominately white communities, was inspired by Lowery’s own daughters, Jayla and Che, who were facing many of the same issues that she had as a child.

Lowery — who graduated from Pacific University with a bachelor’s degree in media arts — grew up in West Linn, where she was one of only a handful of students of color and where she fielded questions about her “different” hair and “The Cosby Show.”

“Part of it was ignorance,” she said after the viewing, adding with a giggle, “I don’t know. I’m just one black person.”

“Black Girl in Suburbia” shows Lowery in her old West Linn neighborhood and visiting with neighbors, but focuses mostly on her interviews with two groups of high school girls who talked about navigating through life in mostly white schools and communities.

She was dismayed, but not surprised, that the young women voiced stories similar to her own, including use of the N-word, stereotypes about black culture and lack of diversity.

For audience member Dezhane McClyde, a 17-year-old high school student from Gresham, “Black Girl in Suburbia” addressed issues she lives every day.

“I could relate to everything,” said McClyde, adding, nothing in it was a lie. “It was all the truth.”

McClyde had never met Lowery, but was glad she attended the showing. “I’m grateful that she was willing to step out and say something,” she said. 

Lowery’s film also includes interviews with staff members from Brookwood Elementary School, which her daughters attend, and with experts on African American culture.

Several women in the film attended the “Black Girl in Suburbia” premiere and contributed to the post-viewing conversation which Lowery facilitated. 

The dominant discussion theme was “I am not alone. There are people out there like me.”

“I applaud your work,” said one audience member. “We need to talk about diversity and to emphasize how important the work is.”

A former West Linn classmate of Lowery’s agreed and suggested the conversation expand to include gender and sexuality as well as race. “It is important and we haven’t had these conversations,” he said.

Lowery wove words by Portland poet LaToya Hampton throughout the film and Hampton was part of the celebration as she performed several of her works, including “Brown Knows.”

Like many in the audience, Hampton said she lived the experience “not in suburbia, but Portland is not far from it.”

Lowery said only 2 percent of Oregon’s 3.9 million residents are African American and Portland ranks as the “fifth whitest city in the country.”

Calling “Black Girl in Suburbia” her “baby” and her “third child,” Lowery hopes to take the film on the road to spark more conversations.

For more information about “Black Girl in Suburbia” or to arrange a showing, contact Lowery at

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