Aaliyah For MAC Is Here: What Does This ’90s Girl Think of the Collection?

by c. shardae jobson

 

“The singer was later quoted in saying, ‘Never be ashamed of a scar. It simply means you were stronger than whatever tried to hurt you.’ Yes, she was young. But Aaliyah had learnt from her mistakes and vowed to not let an older man take advantage of her ever again.

By this point, she had harnessed her true inner power. And like the chariot in the tarot deck cards, she was determined to become a superstar.

However, just a few years later, tragedy struck. And on August 25, 2001, Aaliyah and eight others were killed in a plane crash in the Bahamas after filming the music video for the single, ‘Rock The Boat.’ Eerily, the death number was a nine, and nine people were killed in the tragic accident that day.

Nine is the number that finishes all that were started by the numbers which came before it. All of the passengers’ lives on that fateful flight had come full circle.

In the tarot deck, the number nine represents the hermit, and signifies accomplishment, wisdom, the attainment of gold, as well as the search for truth. It also represents Judgment Day and is the number of those who have accomplished the divine will. Aaliyah had completed her sole contract on earth and the angels had come to carry her home.”

The entire AALIYAH for MAC collection display at the M.A.C. store in Boston’s Prudential Center. Captured on iPhone by C. Shardae Jobson

That passage is from the paranormal podcast, Death by Misadventure. Being that nowadays there seems to be a podcast for everything, I was curious if there were any episodes, from any podcast, on Aaliyah, following the launch of the anticipated Aaliyah for M.A.C., or stylized as #AaliyahForMAC, capsule collection on June 21, 2018. Death by Misadventure provides one, titled, “AALIYAH: Haunted Premonition” and it was uploaded to Spotify just this past spring.

I wasn’t sure what to make of it once it started. For Death by Misadventure, their beat is celebrity deaths. Freak accidents to the merely tragic, “gone too soon” types. Staring back at me on my tablet screen was a stenciled black-and-white image of a known Aaliyah picture of her pouting her lips in a kissy way and in a sassy manner, holding back her hair. On YouTube, there are a ton of conspiracy theory videos that mention Aaliyah’s untimely death at the of 22, and the few I attempted to watch I felt overwhelmed by a nefarious, pseudoscience intent. (I was in Illuminati territory). Past the five-minute mark, and still feeling okay considering the morbid circumstances, I kept on listening, curious on what they had to say.

I found the narrators, a man, and a woman, to be sensitive towards her short life and what her music and celebrity have meant to her fans seventeen years later. Numerology was the catalyst of their research and Death by Misadventure discerned that while it is hard to accept that Aaliyah only lived for 22 years, her time on earth was fulfilled to the very end. “Haunted Premonition” betides as closure. It was surprisingly cathartic.

Veraciously, her death in 2001, and just two, three weeks before 9/11, was the first popular culture tragedy of older millennials, then pre-teens and or already teens, that was as defining to our generation as the shocking deaths of admired and controversial icons like Elvis Presley, Kurt Cobain, Janis Joplin, Tupac and Biggie, John Lennon, and of course Selena was. It was the first time, for me anyway, that I confronted the sadness and confusion of losing a teen idol or a public figure that was close enough in age to me and it was a bizarre place to be in emotionally. The last time I felt such a damning experience concerning death and young lives was when JonBenet Ramsey was murdered in 1996, and the children who perished in the “Oklahoma City Bombing” in 1995. I’ll never forget how my heart sank knowing children’s lives were taken and they were all in the same age bracket as me. I felt powerless.

 

Now that I got that sadness out of the way, as I mentioned, I looked up Aaliyah podcasts in the very first place due to the Aaliyah for M.A.C. collection that was released, at last!

M.A.C announced the capsule collection was underway in August 2017, and I was so stoked. It came to fruition after an impassioned online campaign that asked for signatures to prove to the mammoth cosmetics brand that just like the iconic women before her that garnered limited collections (Marilyn Monroe, Selena) that “Baby Girl”, as she was nicknamed, was worthy of one, commemorating her talent, style, and legacy. The day their surprise social media posts made the rounds, I shared my excitement by posting a GIF from her and her dancers in the music video for “Are You That Somebody.” I specifically chose a clip from that video because it remains my favorite music moment from the Aaliyah catalog.

What a time it was when “Are You That Somebody?” took off in summer of 1998. I still don’t know what the song had to do with the movie Dr. Doolittle, (which I saw in theaters. It was a hit for Eddie Murphy was who closely edging towards family-friendly fare after the blockbuster The Nutty Professor), as it was promoted as one of the soundtrack’s primary songs. But the snap your fingers beat with the slight baby cooing in the background and Aaliyah’s self-assured, playing it cool vocals were indelible, and a true lite-jazz pop meets R&B bop.

The music video had a color scheme of silver, black, and emerald, and Fatima Robinson masterminded the choreography. On that Griffith Park dance floor, Robinson produced a kind of visual language that communicated a 1990s battle of the sexes that was sexily calculated but also sort of rogue in details.

Fashion and makeup-wise, I had never seen the silvery-green lipstick Aaliyah rocked with a “Come at me, bro” ‘tude that was too much for me at 11-years-old. Eager for my teen idols to always show me the way to coolness. I still got the VHS I taped the video on so I could practice Robinson’s moves. I got pretty good at it too!

“Are You That Somebody?” had a stratospheric effect on Aaliyah’s career and deservedly, she earned a Grammy nomination for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance in 1999. The late Static Major and Timbaland wrote the song, and produced by Timbaland.

Earlier this winter, June 21 seemed so damn far and my hankering heightened when images of the products were slowly released. The lipsticks I loved, the glosses I thought were permissible, but the “Age Ain’t Nothing” eye shadow palette, I held a hand up like, “Whoa!” The nine shades were looking mighty pale in the photos. I was annoyed I didn’t love it immediately, but I didn’t dismiss it from a future purchase just yet.

The sentiments among us Aaliyah fans from way back was that we were underwhelmed, even unimpressed with the #AaliyahForMAC collection. I feel terrible even just writing that. I was PO’ed that in the eye shadow palette a tough green to tribute “Are You That Somebody?” or an electric blue, as recognition of her iconic block applied eye shadow look for “Try Again,” weren’t included. It seemed that not one item hollered a particular look from any of her appearances during her celebrity. The collection was a general amalgamation.

Like beauty vlogger Ellarie stated in her review (she was sent the pyramid-shaped vault of the collection via PR), Aaliyah’s makeup was for the most part “minimalistic,” and this was evident on the red carpet and TV interviews. But in her music videos and a lot of her photo shoots for her albums or magazines, she was adventurous and experimental. That look for “Try Again,” I swore you would’ve only seen on an Alexander McQueen or Dior by John Galliano runway circa 1997, 2000. It was bold, fresh, and futuristic as hell. I was inspired that even someone as cool as a cucumber like her, who again was monochromatic as well in her tomboy “street but sweet” fashion, didn’t fear dancing into the colorful, bright side of being an artist.

Before the launch date, I watched some YouTube reviews, my thirst, however, increasing for the collection. I got to say, unlike the Selena x M.A.C. collection, M.A.C. sent the Aaliyah capsule to a lot of smaller, and Black YouTubers, with beauty channels, and that thrilled me. M.A.C. acted a little desperate when they sent the Selena capsule to every other blogger back in 2016, and as a Selena enthusiast too (I was eight when she was murdered in 1995. That shook me as well. In comparison to when I was 14 when Aaliyah died, I was much more aware of how life didn’t always go as planned and I was heartbroken on-site versus years later), it was painful watching vloggers say they didn’t know who she was, seemed unbothered to want to know who she was, and even questioned the Spanish names of some of the products. With Aaliyah, M.A.C. did the right thing in sending it to Black beauty YouTubers. While of course, everyone should feel free to try and buy the Aaliyah collection, her core fan base was Black women, and we needed to know out of everyone how the colors would look on our skin. It was the respectful thing to do and so nice to hear real fans give commentary.

The consensus was that they were excited about the collection because it featured Aaliyah in tribute, not because of the hues and packaging. Sonjadeluxe’s review was the one that convinced me most and warmed me up to the potential of the items.

Lastly, before I share my review and suggestions for what I bought, let’s discuss that unforgivable, criminally named “Baby Girl” “bronzer.”

It’s as bad as the one they developed for the Selena capsule. That sad looking one with the random strip of blush. Gee, thanks. “Baby Girl” is so light, and while Aaliyah was on the lighter-skinned spectrum of black skin, it is pathetic in knowing that her fan base was mostly Black women that so many of us will not be able to wear it. Makeup is more malleable than we think and can be resourceful, but that’s a toss up when an item was designed to “bronze” the skin. Who at M.A.C. and on the Aaliyah for MAC team thought this was cute?? Hard pass.

Online, I desperately purchased the “Try Again” and “Street Thing” lipsticks, the lipglass “Lili’s Motor City” and “Never More” lip liner. The next day on my lunch break, I power walked to the M.A.C. store in the mall to see the entire collection in person. I was still on the fence about the palette, but it felt unjust not to have it either. As expected, when I walked in, I heard her music. The track “A Girl Like You” from One In A Million, grooved along and I beelined to the small display. Everything looked much prettier and glam. My mouth curled into a smile. My goodness. Eleven-year-old would’ve loved this and 31-year-old me does. I admit. I got sentimental.

A M.A.C. associate immediately came over and chatted me up, and I told him how I had bought four items yesterday but had to see the palette live. He smiled with a chuckle and stated his favorable opinion of it. As I swatched, I told him the pictures didn’t do the capsule justice. He agreed.

In less than five minutes, I motioned him over to get me a palette and the “At Your Best” lipglass. I left with my two new additions and a full-size poster satisfied.

 

That following Saturday, I couldn’t help myself and went into Macy’s and bought the “More Than A Woman” lipstick and was given a poster again. I almost gave it back since I had one, but I thought I could make a cool mini collage of it. (And it’s that gorgeous September 2001 i-D magazine cover with the chandelier earring and her distinguished hairstyle that not since Veronica Lake looked utterly esoteric and beautiful). By now, I was loving the collection and had to eat my words and thoughts about how slightly disappointed I was at first. It is a lovely tribute, and although I wished they had acknowledged her funkier makeup moments, the core pieces nailed her fierce, at times afrofuturistic vibe and affinity for sheen and gloss. I couldn’t deny the #AaliyahForMAC collection that compliment.

We’ve come a long way in preserving her legacy.

Following are my short reviews on the six products I currently own in my makeup arsenal from #AaliyahForMAC with tips on how to wear them!

“TRY AGAIN” matte lipstick

What I thought was going to be my favorite in the collection is my least. It appeared mocha brown on Instagram and is instead an extremely washed out beige. This is a nude for fair toned people. Nothing wrong with that! But not a grab and go lip shade for me at all. I have to wear this with a lip liner and lately, I’ve been attempting to make it work with my MAKE UP FOR EVER Artist Color Pencil in “Free Burgundy”, or Sephora Collection Rouge Gel Lip Liner in “Oil Slick.” Also, Colourpop’s Lippie Pencil in “Dukes.” I occasionally use all three and smush my lips together to darken “Try Again.”

“MORE THAN A WOMAN” amplified lipstick

A classic raspberry, I already have this shade of lipstick from other brands. I’m specifically thinking of one from Rimmel. But as soon as I tried it on and I loved it. I wear this with a dark lip liner, like “Oil Slick,” or the #AaliyahForMAC “Never More.”

“NEVER MORE” lip pencil

Described as “pure black” on M.A.C.’s website, it is Dark with a capital D and it’s perfect.

“STREET THING” frost lipstick

My snooty ass wouldn’t shut the hell up about the collection not directly acknowledging “Are You That Somebody?”, but this lipstick is a kind-of indirect nod and works in that regard. It’s unexpectedly glamorous, and the frost element isn’t tacky or dull. When I applied it, it glided nicely, and I felt so chic. To get a similar look to what Aaliyah had in the video, line with a similar shade of lip liner, such as “Never More,” and I used my J. Cat Liptonix Extreme Shimmer Topper in “Kryptonite” to bring out and bolster any green flecks “Street Thing” might’ve had. As my mother says, it works like a charm, and you get the lip look close to Aaliyah’s. I had a moment.

“LILI’s MOTOR CITY” lipglass

Can you believe I still haven’t worn this shade yet? My first fave out of the quartet, this one M.A.C. artists and associates raved about. I’ll probably wear this with a plum liner and smush. And the name of it, I put two and two together,  and Motor City references Detroit where she was raised for a time as a kid, and “Lili’s,” well, maybe that was another nickname for her.

“AGE AIN’T NOTHING” nine-pan eye shadow palette

The item I didn’t want to resist, these nine shades are collectively cool and warm, with a color scheme sprouting or supportive of the purple family. When I purchased it, that same M.A.C. employee that greeted me raved about the peach hue in the middle on the bottom, suggesting I place it in the center of the lid. Achieving a smoky eye is pretty easy with this palette, and you can have fun with it, such as applying the silver on the bottom last line, or full gold lid with lilac accents. It sucks that pictures didn’t serve it well at all, including mine, but it is pretty, dependable, and I’m happy with it.

 

 

The Return of a More Inclusive Almay

*The Return of a More Inclusive Almay

Color me surprised when I saw Almay’s latest commercial starring Rashida Jones. Jones may be on the lighter-skinned spectrum of celebrities who are biracial, but nonetheless, what was Almay–that hadn’t had a spokesmodel of color in years–doing promoting products with her? Was what I thought was happening really happening? Hmmmm.

When I began to see photos of their latest foundation, Best Blend Forever, my suspicions of a new Almay on the horizon were confirmed. Awaiting me at the end of the Best Blend color spectrum were three salient shades of brown. In person, on an Almay display at CVS, it was as if the triumvirate shimmied and winked at me, translating to a, “Yep. It’s happening!”

For years, Almay hadn’t sold a shade beyond “Warm” (usage of this description can be subjective in makeup) or “Sand”, and it was sadly accepted for just as long that Almay wasn’t a brand for anyone who identified under “Caramel”, “Cappuccino”, and “Mocha”, shades now proffered to consumers. But truthfully, Almay used to sell such shades for women of color in the past. Is this inclusion of the three hues a return to form? Or a post-haste response to a makeup landscape that has frantically responded to demands for inclusivity now that we’re all beautifying ourselves in a post-Fenty Beauty world?

“To not be inclusive was hurting our hearts”, Amanda Ashe, an Almay representative, admitted solemnly. More cheerfully, she reassured that the new campaign of “Reveal the True You”, “has been a game-changer for us.” The welcoming tagline and brown shades signify that the brand “wants to be hyper-aware going forward.”

In the 1920s and early 1930s, makeup and skin care were nationwide crazes that Hollywood’s earliest movie stars and everyday women partook in. But by today’s standards, products were made of heavy pigments, lipsticks carried heavy fragrances, and up until the 1950s, the chemical element of radium was custom to include in cosmetics (and even chocolate).

Fanny May was one whose skin was irritated by the trendy products of the Gatsby era. Her chemist husband Alfred Woititz was concerned and this led him to experimenting and breaking down some of the makeup she had applied to discover what had vexed her skin. Together, and with the guidance of dermatologist Marion Sulzberger, a lighter formula of makeup was created. In 1931, Almay (Al for Alfred; May for Fanny May) emerged as the first hypoallergenic makeup line on the market.

Though other brands, such as Max Factor, Maybelline, and Helena Rubenstein, gained a lot more pop cultural clout, as trends came and went by the decades, Almay stayed afloat in offering the same products such as cake eyeliner and bright eyeshadows, while remaining hypoallergenic, its sole purpose as a brand. Foundation shades that could suit Black women remained non-existent from Almay. Brands that however catered to this categorical group of makeup wearers like Fashion Fair, Floris Roberts, and Zuri flourished in the 1970s. These brands were a part of the larger zeitgeist of Black Americans and people of color celebrating their beauty and features.

Image result for zuri makeup 1970s
1970s Zuri ad

Almay was purchased by Revlon in 1987 and in late summer of 1991, it was announced that it was set to release a “Darker Tones of Almay” line, expanding its shade range into the deeper pool of cocoa colors for face makeup.

Before YouTube and Instagram became battlegrounds where consumers could berate any makeup brand for their lack of shade range, in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, Americans of ethnic and multiracial backgrounds had grown tremendously. Analysts of the time confirmed their spending power had reached $500 million a year (by 1990),  so it was a smart business move and a matter of ethics for major brands, from Prescriptives to Clinique, to start providing makeup for people of color. It was equally vital to also formulate them with regards to the true vibrancy of undertones found in darker skin. (This remains a pressing issue, especially for lines with the temerity to only have one foundation for deep to dark skin or are rather gun crazy when it comes to red undertones. Around this time, a considerable percentage of Black women had also disclosed having to travel quite a distance from where they lived, just to get makeup that matched. This problem persists, on a smaller scale, for various towns and cities).

Top model Beverly Peele, who cat-walked for Azzedine Alaia and Versace, and covered magazines like Mademoiselle and GLAMOUR, starred in a now legendary advert that helped to introduce Almay’s “new range of shades for sensitive skin” in 1992. Next to the headshot of Peele’s gorgeously smooth complexion were small images of four products, including a chestnut hue tucked in a compact and resembling a perfect chocolate milkshake (but in reality), a tube of Liquid Makeup.

Forward towards the late ‘90s and early 2000s when model and former MTV VJ Karen Duffy and Courtney Thorne Smith (of Ally McBeal fame), both white, were hired as spokesmodels, the brand had steered into a presentation that was frankly square in commencement of their “One Coat” application maxim (still ongoing). While competitors like L’Oreal, Almay’s parent company Revlon, and the juggernaut of M.A.C. enticed customers with polychromatic campaigns, Black celebrity spokesmodels like Halle Berry, and continued to sell their (small number, for the former two) brown shades, such shades had completely faded away from Almay’s foundation arsenal. For their One Coat Lip Creams lipstick, a dark skin Black model smiled front and center in an ad published in American magazines. But that was it for diverse representation.

On message boards like Lipstick Alley (the Reddit of Black women during the Internet’s nascent social media days), the Peele ad was frequently shared among users and comments had built a mountain of disbelief that Almay ever sold makeup for Black women. This marked the brand’s dual disconnection from the general public and a new generation of makeup lovers.

Perceptions of Almay’s apparent exclusivity worsened when blonde-haired, light-eyed American Idol Carrie Underwood signed on as their latest celebrity face in 2014, succeeding Kate Hudson. She was initiated with new slogans that championed the “All-American Look” and “Simply American.” No brown shades were brought on board for the launch.

Almay’s delayed rebirth was developed by Antonette Bivona, Almay’s Marketing Director who has been with the Revlon/Almay camp for twenty-six years and counting, also serving Product Development. Revered as an “encyclopedia” in the company, Bivona’s cognizant of the harsh appraisals Almay has received. She is realistic about the sensitivity of the issue.

“During research for our new brand positioning, we received feedback, directly from consumers, that they had felt excluded from the brand and that our product range did not meet their beauty needs. This was never our intention,” Bivona said, matter-of-factly in an email exchange. “Our brand belief and product offerings should reflect the brand’s desire to be more inclusive. Somewhere along the way, Almay lost its way, targeting a small range of skin tones, most probably driven by sales or retail space.” Warmly, she added, ”We needed to reach a more diverse audience, specifically consumers who are focused on accentuating their natural beauty.”

For a long time, it was Bivona’s dream to re-introduce Almay as a timeless, but fresh and livelier brand, with nods to a population of savvier young adults. “Multi-faceted millennial women, at this intersection of style, culture, and wellness, are more aware of ingredients used in beauty. And while all-natural products are ideal, she is a practical shopper too. This is one of the more important parts of our refreshed brand. Connecting to this core group.”

As early as 2016, disparaging remarks continued to find Almay, but the brand was finally undeterred from their goal of starting anew (but still hypoallergenic!) with brown shades back on the vision board. In fall 2017, commercials starring Rashida Jones began to air and stream online.

Almay handpicked the comedienne, producer, half-Black/half-Jewish, and unapologetically feminist Jones for conscious reasons beyond her famous surname and Instagram count. “We wanted someone who really embraced the spirit and more than just the face. Rashida’s authentic, refreshing, and her effortless style made her the perfect choice. Beauty brands take themselves so seriously [and while our mission is], Rashida brings a light-hearted, fun tone to the category.” Bovina confirmed that she is also a “Creative Collaborator.”

The models are a reflection of a new day for Almay as well. On social media and adverts, they are adorably freckled all over, deep-toned with massively fluffy textured hair, and proudly Asian rocking a strong black cat-eye or swaths of purple on distinctive monolids. Flatlays show an eyeshadow palette, mascara, and a “Mocha” Best Blend on Instagram. Almay also openly fields feedback from their followers on all their social media pages, eager to form a community.

Aware that they had to change before the blitzkrieg of intersectional beauty in the mainstream, twenty-seven years later, Almay doesn’t want praise for the return of good intentions. They want to gain the trust of consumers they had let down for too long, now that they have diversified. “We have a long way to go,” Bovina stated, “But we’re excited about the first, important, steps we have made.”

Researched and written by C. Shardae Jobson

*The review above is what I hoped would’ve been published on Fashionista’s website on April 5, 2018. As what commonly happens to journalists and writers everywhere, sometimes the version that is circulated to readers is not what the writer intended or wanted to share with you. I will never stand by the version that was published on Fashionista because I was not consulted once when it came to editing and finalizing the article. And this was an assignment in which I was passionate about exploring, not chastising. The version on Fashionista is a shell of what I wanted to express. 

In Mansfield, Black Dolls Are A Journey to A Colorful & Hard Truth Past

poet Phillis Wheatley

 

A considerable amount of Black history in America has taken place in Boston. It was where Phillis Wheatley, a West African native—who emigrated stateside because she was sold as a slave—became the first Black female poet published in the U.S. It was once home to Malcolm X, who lived in Roxbury with his sister Ella Little-Collins. The capital can claim bragging rights to being the birthplace of the seminal Queen of Disco, Donna Summer. Here, are just three examples out of the motley of icons and brave individuals, and events, embedded in American history involving Black people, or African-Americans, with Bostonian ties.

Surprisingly, one of the most Black-history rich spots in Massachusetts is in Mansfield, a somnolent suburb southwest of Boston. Loftily named The National Black Doll Museum of History & Culture, it is in its fifth year of using dolls, trinkets, and toys as a gateway to understanding the Black experience, encompassing centuries, subcultures, and generations.

Doll emporiums, such as Wenham Museum, also in Massachusetts, and conventions are treasured by enthusiasts. Showcases on Black and ethnic dolls are quite common within mainstream and general art museums. But such showcases are usually not extended into permanent exhibitions. For a year-round education, The Philadelphia Doll Museum was the harbinger for over a decade, regaling itself as the “only museum” preserving and collecting Black dolls. Debra Britt, Executive Director and Founder of The National Black Doll Museum of History & Culture (NBDM), joined the cause of exploring the Black doll’s valiant presence when she opened her own museum to the public in 2012.

A warm reception followed as news and small papers from nearby Connecticut and Rhode Island were fond of the museum’s mission. The Boston Globe showed admiration in their write-up as well (and they did so again, late last month) as its metropolitan namesake is 20-25 minutes away from Mansfield if you take the commuter rail from South Station. (A Dorchester native, Britt worked for 21 years at the South Station post office).

The NBDM is first on a block of one-story, low-ceiling buildings on 288 North Main Street, and appears as homely on the outside as neighboring Looking Glass Café. Not until encountering the up-close appearance of a slightly pixilated banner of a brown skin porcelain doll with big, hopeful amber brown eyes do NBDM visitors know they have arrived.

Past the gift shop, where you pay admission, the bombardment of Barack Obama’s legacy first nets your attention. Encouraging quotes such as “To be Black was to be the beneficiary of a great inheritance, a special destiny, glorious burdens that only we were strong enough to bear”, an excerpt from his 1995 memoir, Dreams from My Father, are scotch taped on locker cubbies. On the opposite wall, newspaper clippings, including headlines from his two historic election night victories, hang proudly.

“We struggled for five years in here,” said Britt. “Actually, we considered [some other options], even closing the museum. It started out with myself and my three sisters and since that time I’ve lost one sister and two have cancer. I’m here by myself a lot and just try to manage in-between taking each one to chemo.”

The sisters did not intend on opening a functioning doll museum. Once they found and occupied 288 North Main, it was meant to be storage for their massive collection. “It was just a place to count the dolls.” Her collection at that point had overflowed in her household. “We have 6, 275 dolls. We don’t put them all out at the same. That would just be too much!” (In comparison, The Philadelphia Doll Museum has stated it obtains 300-500 dolls in its collection).

Museum decor is often achieved with major aplomb. No fancy display or staircase unturned amongst the Manets, Monets, and Egyptian sculptures. But at the humble NBDM, it is a museum in the classic sense of the dolls in a collective space. You just feel as if you are a guest at a family reunion, witnessing the family tree from room to room, versus simply gleaning artifacts. The dolls unfold stories of the past instead of sepia, cream and gray, or black and white Polaroids. And while Britt attempted to spare guests by not having every doll on display (capacity wouldn’t permit it anyway), the museum remains fraught.

The first room acts as a prelude to the eight NBDM galleries. Ndebele dolls greet with their black skin made out of pure cloth or tights, and gold-banded necks, as stark, beaded eyes penetrate from their gourd-shaped bodies. Next to them are dolls in traditional African garb, and inside a standing cupboard, a 1919 doll made with a wishbone that can be held in the palm of your hand. The oldest dolls and toys in the NBDM are from 1789 in a glass case. They are as small as two ants put together.

Britt officially begins her tour with the Dogon Tribe hut. This section includes a surprise spot where 720 dolls are contained for a historic jolt. “Black firsts” within politics, women’s rights, and inventors are in the next room. Amongst uber-famous activists and rebels like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks are detailed histories of lesser-known heroines like Mary Elizabeth Bowser (“Elizabeth Bond”), a Union Spy against the Confederate with astounding photographic memory. “She was never caught” Britt disclosed. This room doesn’t have any dolls. The purpose is clear and direct: know your history or the history of the unsung.

The following space are a handful of baby dolls on shelves. Their doughy eyes and puffed out cheeks melt hearts and widen eyes. They are extremely cute. In particular, the cherubic ”Saralee” was a baby doll created by Sara Lee Creech, a White woman who sought to make Black dolls available and more realistic for Black children of the 1950s.

“She was this White sculptor that went to [Their Eyes Were Watching God author] Zora Neale Hurston and Zora introduced her to Eleanor Roosevelt,” said Britt. “So Zora and Eleanor looked at the doll, said it was great, then they took it to Ralph Bunche [the first Black person awarded a Nobel Peace Prize, in 1950], a few other people, the NAACP, the Urban League, and asked for their approval because they wanted to make sure they looked like Black kids. They approved it and Eleanor became the spokesperson for this doll to get it into different toy stores.”

Across from Saralee rests an original Cream of Wheat doll of the brand’s Black chef mascot. Derogatorily nicknamed “Rastus”, his name likely came from one of the characters, a deacon, in the questionable Black folklore of the Uncle Remus stories, authored by White Georgian Joel Chandler Harris in the early 1880s.

Next to it is the equally, and still in its box, the controversial Nabisco and Mattel collab, the “Oreo” Black Barbie doll that was released in American toy stores in 1997. As a counterpart to the White “Oreo” Barbie, heated conversations from the Black community, because of the double-meaning jargon of “oreo”, reached Mattel’s headquarters, prompting the doll to be pulled.

The Saralee doll. Photo courtesy of New Times Broward-Palm Beach

Before heading into the next gallery, of 1960s to early 2000s entrepreneurs, Britt can’t help but dispense information on almost every other doll or item her eyes graze. She pulls out doll parts from inside a clear jar and explains that they were dyed cocoa brown and assembled back together for Black children to play with, in the 1920s.

Historical context is pivotal to the NBDM but a lot of fun is shared too. The music room is light-hearted, with vinyl records on the walls featuring classic soul, funk, and R&B of the 1960s to 1980s. They are dolls resembling Destiny’s Child, Scary Spice of The Spice Girls, Tupac Shakur, The Notorious B.I.G., and a 1991 MC Hammer doll, donning the rapper’s unforgettable gold harem pants and matching bolero jacket. The Michael Jackson doll is downstairs in inventory, but the Bob Marley that “people come from all over to see” is always there. It is one-of-one of the reggae legend—with a jubilant expression in face and body—because his hair and clothes were co-signed by his mother, Cedella Booker.

“The mother donated the hair for that doll and made its outfits. Jack Johnston made [the doll] when he lived with her and taught Cedella how to sculpt. She gave him the stuff so it can really be a part of Bob Marley. It is the only one,” said Britt. “He gave me the doll in 2009 and made it three years prior.”

Britt had met Johnston at a doll conference. Booker passed away in 2008.

There is a sports room, a wall dedicated to Native American dolls, started by one of Britt’s sisters, and of course, a Barbie room. The one doll missing from the NBDM archive is Addy, the first ethnic/of color doll issued by the American Girl brand. Britt wasn’t sure why that was. It may have just been an oversight. What’s collected so far certainly makes up for it.

For the NBDM’s calendar, seasonal projects circulate. The Wedding Collection wrapped up for the summer and in October, a “Dolls of the World” interactive exhibit will be held. (It opened October 8). In using Donald Trump’s inimical wish for a wall to be built between the United States and Mexico, Britt’s plan is to display dolls representative of multiple cultures and ethnicities, and the only way for guests to see them is by removing a “brick” from a wall made of shoeboxes.  “In order to see the dolls on the other side of the wall, you got to break the wall down. ‘We’re banning people from everywhere…’ okay…” Britt mused, “You won’t get to see the beauty because the beauty is different people and different cultures.”

She will also host an exhibit, courtesy of the Smithsonian Institute Traveling Exhibition Service, called “A Place for All People”, a similar take on inclusivity and diversity.

Despite its low profile, The National Black Doll Museum of History & Culture is important to those that seek it, such as the Black and brown communities that live in the region, as well as curious visitors. “When folks get together, there are about 2,000 folks out here, so this place has become a cultural center,” Britt said. “We’ve done open mics, Black plays, book signings…”

It is remarkable how much history can be learned through seemingly innocuous (Black) dolls and Britt has also been a consultant in representing Black people correctly in history and continues to hold seminars and doll-making classes based on her museum to east coast schools and establishments. This is actually how her museum began, prior to securing 288 Main, as mentioned in the NBDM’s profile in the Globe: “For years, the nonprofit museum was a traveling exhibit, more than 5,000 dolls, carried to battered women’s shelters, soup kitchens, and schools; stored in boxes and tubs in her attic, basement, and garage.”

While leaving the Barbie room, Britt mentioned owning a thousand versions of the famous fashion doll. Though she acknowledged throughout the tour that she’s been a collector since her 1950s youth, after all these years, she still wouldn’t categorize her gravitation to dolls as simply fanatical.

“I don’t know if it was passion more than it was rebellion that led me to the dolls,” she says with ease while heading towards the wall of Black action figures, the last of the eight galleries.