Charles Honeywood’s narrative short, Pictures Only, will be shown online at the New Jersey Film Festival on Friday, September 29, 2023, for 24 hours. The films tells the story of Louise Parker, an African American painter who specializes in African art, who is let go from her job and has received an eviction notice. She quickly finds a new job as a dancer at a strip club and loves the freedom and popularity it brings her. However, in exploring the lucrative business and her place within it, she risks her mother finding out and allowing her family to lose everything.
Honeywood’s film opens with Louise coming home to her apartment in the Bronzeville neighborhood of Chicago to find an eviction notice taped to the door. She enters to find her best friend, Jo, painting. Louise informs her of the eviction notice as well as the fact that she has just lost her job due to “budget cuts,” which Jo decides was a blatant racist decision. Set in the 1950s at the height of segregation in the United States, Jo insists that the white institution was threatened by the African art that Louise was introducing and that her firing was discriminatory. This opening scene perfectly establishes the tension between Louise and Jo and between black Americans and racist white America; Jo is a cynic, insisting that Louise was let go due to her skin color and African art, while Louise insists she was respected and had creative freedom.
Honeywood’s direction and camerawork also create and emphasize this tension – the handheld camera movement allows for a sense of intimacy between the audience and the characters, placing audience members in the room with Louise and Jo. After taking in Jo’s harsh yet honest words, Louise soon realizes that she was a token artist and taken advantage of, angry at her naivete. Honeywood is beautifully and blatantly commenting on the black struggle in America; audiences will resonate with the conversation, as the same conversations are unfortunately heard today, despite the film beings set about 70 years ago.
Desperately wanting to help her newly unemployed best friend, Jo tells Louise about a waitressing job at her Uncle Booker’s restaurant. Louise agrees to visit him to learn more information. Quickly realizing the supposed “restaurant” is a burlesque club, Louise hesitates about the opportunity, but the manager tells her she will make much more money there than elsewhere. The club is looking for female entertainers and dancers, and Louise, now “Lola,” decides to take the job after the information about good pay.
Louise’s new life as a burlesque dancer gives her the confidence and empowerment she craves as an oppressed black woman. Despite the stigma surrounding female sexuality, Honeywood chose for Louise’s character to embrace this part of herself shamelessly. “Lola” is self-assured, assertive, and unperturbed – all qualities Louise wishes she could exhibit in a world desperate to hide her femininity and blackness. When Louise is offered the opportunity to pose for personal pictures taken for paying clients, she must pursue a stigmatized, unconventional path that grants her freedom and confidence or decline the offer to take a traditional job supporting herself and her family.
Pictures Only perfectly poses dilemmas of the social and personal variety, inviting viewers to reflect on stereotypes and discrimination concerning black people in America, especially black women in America. Louise’s plight is familiar; she wants to embrace her confidence as a woman but is worried about the backlash it might cause, whether from strangers or her family.
Pictures Only will be shown online along with Takashi Horie’s feature film The Last Passenger at the New Jersey Film Festival on Friday, September 29, 2023, for 24 hours. Tickets are available for purchase here.