Young Filmmaker Samantha Knowles asks ‘Why Do You Have Black Dolls?’ in her Debut Documentary

Samantha Knowles, 22, surrounded by the subject of her new 25-minute movie.

Sometimes, a doll is not just a doll. It’s a reminder of a child’s beauty and potential.  No one understands that better than 22-year-old director Samantha Knowles, whose experience growing up as an African-American in a predominantly white community was the inspiration for her new documentary, “Why Do You Have Black Dolls?”

The 25-minute debut film about the significance of black dolls has been accepted at five film festivals and a trailer for “Why Do You Have Black Dolls” can be seen on

“When I was 8, a white friend came over and innocently asked, ‘Why do you have black dolls?” remembers Knowles, who was raised in Warwick, N.Y., and now lives in Prospect Heights. “At the time, I obviously couldn’t really answer the question.”  Fourteen years later, she can.  Knowles, who initially made the film as her honors thesis at Dartmouth College, spent $6,000 and interviewed more than 20 dollmakers and historians, mostly in New York and Philadelphia.

“These black dolls provide a positive representation of black women and men to the children that play with them,” she says. “In these dolls, children see a reminder of their own beauty.”

In the film, 6-year-old Emily Forrester and her friends illustrate Knowles’ message as they play with their dolls in a Queens apartment.  “She had curly hair just like me, so I picked this doll,” says Forrester. “I have black dolls because they are pretty and everyone likes black dolls.”  Knowles was surprised to discover a small but passionate community that creates and collects black dolls.


“I learned a lot about the making of black dolls,” she says. “Instead of going to Walmart and buying dolls, many women are making their own dolls to look like their mothers and sisters. These dolls sell anywhere from $20 to thousands of dollars, but their true value is in the creation process.”

The main concern for Knowles, who has a collection of 60 dolls, was whether anyone would care about the significance and history of a child’s toy.  The response to her film, which includes a profile in Jet Magazine, has set her mind at ease.

“The black community has these larger issues like educational gaps and poverty and violence and I kept thinking, ‘Why do black dolls matter?’” she says. “But the conversation always reverts back to image and what is a more powerful and formative image for a young black child than her dolls?”

Criticism online has accused Knowles of promoting reverse racism, to which the young director responds, “I’m not critiquing white dolls, just exploring the role of black dolls. They are a reminder of our beauty that weren’t always available. My mom would have to specially order me black dolls at Christmas.”

article by Jacob E. Osterhout via

6 thoughts on “Young Filmmaker Samantha Knowles asks ‘Why Do You Have Black Dolls?’ in her Debut Documentary”

  1. I was also blessed to have parents who understood the importance of self-image, and I always had Black dolls in the 60s. Made all the difference!

  2. **round of applause* For Samantha Knowles! What courage, insight and well you GO girl! I’m so proud of you for putting this out there..Reverse racism?!? Pfffft! I’ve heard some “retarded ” things ; but that rises to the semi-top of the list. Is it right for parents to have to special order something as simple as DOLLS for their daughters?!? Absolutely NOT..and how would any parent feel if they had to? Upset! And rightfully so…it is the way it is though and it isn’t right nor cool. When I was a little girl it was even harder to find Black dolls…little Black girls then hadn’t seen a doll with their own image. How sad! Remember the Black doll/White doll experiment? Self-image is important..and WE as Black parents can’t let society teach OUR children that being Black isn’t BEAUTIFUL. Again major kudos to Samantha’ve got a new fan and I’ll be staying updated on your projects. Stay UPlifted & blessed. Hugz!

      1. **Pleasure was all mine..I’m thankful someone on my faves list re-blogged your blog site! Thank you for keeping us posted on the GOOD Blacks news…how I tired of just hearing/seeing the bad on the so-called mainstream news channels..

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