When you can only conjure up two or three prominent examples of black female physicians in our popular culture, it’s a safe bet that something’s wrong with the reality that fiction often reflects. Beyond ShondaLand and Doc McStuffins, only 2 percent of all doctors in the United States are black women — a troubling statistic that director Crystal Emery seeks to draw attention to, and even rectify, in her hopeful but mild documentary Black Women in Medicine.
As straightforward as its title (and even more earnest), the film provides historical context but mainly focuses on the testimonies of both newer and more seasoned black female doctors, including the trailblazers who endured overt, insidious racism and sexism meant to keep them out of their fields.
The older clinicians tell absorbing tales: One woman shares how childhood sewing and carpentry skills inspired her to become a surgeon; another discusses raising five children alone before even attempting to obtain her bachelor’s degree.
These intimate accounts drive the narrative until about halfway through, when the film suddenly becomes a recruitment promo. Personal interviews give way to informational panels and repetitive lessons on the importance of affirmative-action policies and mentorship. The message is vital — patients of color are more likely to respond to medical providers who look like them and understand their communities — but the execution soon dulls the senses.
Black Women in Medicine is a document of voices that need to be heard: the pioneers and the young medical students who sacrificed their youth to obtain their credentials. “You can’t be what you can’t see,” one doctor contends. It’s just too bad the film couldn’t leave some of the advertising to subtext.
Black Women in Medicine
Directed by Crystal Emery
Now playing, Cinema Village