This post was written by Jennifer Smith.

Years ago, I saw a fundraising campaign online for the film, Black Barbie. After reading the materials about the project, I was moved by the story and realized how important it is for this subject matter to have a voice. Being a Jewish woman, I can relate to a certain point about dolls and representation, but other voices need to be able to tell their own experiences, so I donated some money for the film.

I had hoped that my contribution could help get this story out there. 

Flash forward to 2022, a fellow music supervisor friend of mine knew the producer and recommended me for the project (he did not know I had donated to this project prior). I had no idea that it would come back around to me being part of the team. It was fate and I am honored to have had a part in bringing this project to life.

Like any film or project, the first part of my creative process is getting to know our “characters” and what the filmmaker is trying to convey to the audience. Lagueria Davis (writer/director) and I spent hours talking about this project and what her vision was.

'Black Barbie: A Documentary' Music Supervisor Jennifer SmithMusic Supervisor Jennifer SmithCredit: Courtesy of Jennifer Smith

My job is to take her vision and translate that sonically to add that extra level or character. For this film, we are talking a lot about history and culture. I wanted to focus on emotion, social climate, and history. Throughout American history, music has been tied to our news culture or study culture in a subliminal way. An example of this would be old-fashioned newsreels that use very Patriotic music or studies that use piano jazz vibes.

I wanted to incorporate those notes into our story, then flip the music later in the story to take back that subliminal music in our culture to get people to wake up and view things from a modern sense. Music has power, not only in storytelling but in everyone’s everyday life regardless of their background.

In the film, our main title sequence is extremely fierce in the visuals as we hear a voiceover of the story about what Black Barbie meant and means to real people to this day  seeing a doll that was like them. The director wanted something upbeat and grabbed the audience into the glamorous world of Barbie.

A recognizable song was a must. I had the idea of Barbie Girl by Aqua. This song not only is perfect due to lyrics, tempo, and tone but it has some underground fierceness. This song was part of a lawsuit from Mattel against the record label/band.

This case was dismissed, and it was revolutionary at the time. A small artist against a big company, and the court ruled the song was protected as a parody under the trademark doctrine. To me, this song, case, and our story fit perfectly. Since there is a big brand that millions of young people look at and there is room for change or expression of self.

Black-barbie-documentary'Black Barbie: A Documentary'Credit: Bry Thomas Sanders, Animation DP

Being the music supervisor for Behind The Music on Paramount+ influenced me on how to approach this project. Working on documentaries or docuseries is a different skill set than other TV or film projects. In a documentary, you have a responsibility to the story and to the real people to tell their story.

Music can change an audience’s perception of what a person is saying or the story. It is a delicate line that takes finesse more than other projects. I had to respect the narrative and voices there were telling their stories while making sure Lagueria’s vision was intact.

This responsibility is not for the sonic faint of heart!

This post was written by Jennifer Smith.