Published May 06, 2011Growing up as a biracial teen has its hardships and being biracial, I've gone through my fair share. When I was 15 years old, I fell for a Ukrainian-born student in one of my classes. When I divulged my infatuations for him in a letter in class, the next day he patted my back and told me he couldn't go out with me because I wasn't white. He then handed me a previously used cassette of TLC's Crazysexycool as a consolation prize and went on his way.
Although this personal anecdote may sound like one the most humiliating and racist things a biracial teen could go through, it's nothing compared to the adversities and struggles biracial children face while living in Ukraine, as director Julia Ivanova remarkably displays in her stark documentary, Family Portrait in Black and White.
In a country where anybody who isn't white is considered "sub-human," foster mother Olga Nenya takes on the courageous task of raising 27 children – 16 of them biracial. Despite the fact that they live in poor conditions, viewers will first admire Olga for providing love, food, clothes and shelter to these charismatic teens and children, as they all seem to respect and care for her as if she were their biological mother.
Unfortunately as the documentary's running time goes by, it becomes obvious that Olga's Soviet-era ideals are taking over these children's lives. Most of the outcasts (who ironically enough, are all creative types) must rebel against her so they can achieve their dreams of living abroad, going to university and playing music. Olga plays favourites (especially with those who need her the most) and attempts to sabotage the children's dreams and goals, going as far as hiding their passports, making viewers believe that she isn't a caring foster mother but rather a hoarder of children.
In spite of the fact that Olga is compared to Joseph Stalin by one of her brighter teens, she isn't an evil woman. Her heart is in the right place; she simply enforces her strict rules and leadership to hide her very apparent abandonment issues.
Ivanova's lush cinematography and candid directing skills provide viewers with an honest, moving viewpoint of what it's like to live in rural Ukraine. Family Portrait in Black and White is a touching and compelling documentary that will make viewers question their parenting moral barometer. (Interfilm)