Generally favorable reviews - based on 10 Critics What's this?

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  • Summary: The first documentary to explore the role of photography in shaping the identity, aspirations and social emergence of African Americans from slavery to the present, Through a Lens Darkly probes the recesses of American history by discovering images that have been suppressed, forgotten and lost. Bringing to light the hidden and unknown photos shot by both professional and vernacular African American photographers, the film opens a window into lives, experiences and perspectives of black families that is absent from the traditional historical canon. These images show a much more complex and nuanced view of American culture and society and its founding ideals. [First Run Features] Expand
Score distribution:
  1. Positive: 5 out of 10
  2. Negative: 0 out of 10
  1. Reviewed by: Martin Tsai
    Nov 13, 2014
    Some of the black photographers' works here are breathtaking — and may prompt you to hunt down Willis' book for the coffee table. But there's so much more to take away from Harris' documentary.
  2. Reviewed by: A.O. Scott
    Aug 26, 2014
    At times, Mr. Harris’s voice-over narration veers into academic abstraction or lyrical emotionalism in ways that undercut the eloquence of the images, but over all he is a wise and passionate guide to an inexhaustibly fascinating subject.
  3. Reviewed by: Peter Rainer
    Aug 29, 2014
    The implicit question overhanging the film: Is the political impetus to present only “positive” imagery of black people an injustice to the fullest range of their experience?
  4. Reviewed by: Keith Uhlich
    Aug 24, 2014
    The survey the film provides is bracing, and there are plenty of talking heads to guide us through the kaleidoscope of imagery. Unfortunately, there’s also a public-television vibe to the proceedings that mutes the overall power. It’s essential info presented with little imagination.
  5. Reviewed by: Dennis Harvey
    Aug 28, 2014
    Though a tad uneven, as a whole the documentary cannily juggles an overview of African-American history in general with the specifics of its photographic representation and talents.
  6. Reviewed by: Andrew Lapin
    Aug 26, 2014
    Director Thomas Allen Harris, who has a background in transmedia art, has made an earnest, though often sloppy, documentary on the essential role imagery plays in shaping the narrative of a people.
  7. Reviewed by: Michael Atkinson
    Aug 26, 2014
    Would that Harris had simply let the images and their historical context speak for themselves. His narration is simplistic and narcissistic... and the textual ideas he and his interviewees present about the intersection between race and imagery are hardly fresh.

See all 10 Critic Reviews