“The Weight of the Sky” is a 30-minute short documentary film that follows ten-year old Allyssa and her single-father Artrell over two years as Allyssa navigates the intimate transition from child to teenager in the African-American neighborhood of East New York. With her father struggling to cope with the challenges of unemployment and the effects it’s having on his mental health, Allyssa is exposed to a complex reality that prompts her to find an escape in the form of her iPad and by fantasizing of becoming ‘Supergirl’. Supergirl can transform her surroundings. Distressed neighborhood blocks that are direct effects of government-backed policies to create housing disparities become glittery streets where everyone is financially independent and happy -- all with the wave of a star-studded wand.
The film interweaves intimate observational vérite of Allyssa’s everyday life with that of her escapist alter ego, Supergirl. The audience is provided a glimpse into the challenges that come with growing up in a poor African-American community in New York, but by focusing on moments of everyday life and the dreams and aspirations of young Allyssa. It offers a more identifiable narrative and places a girl, the likes of whom are rarely represented on screen, as the protagonist of her own story.
One challenge that is often brought up when referencing the problems within Black communities is the lack of parental support, often in the form of a missing father - the seed of the ‘deadbeat dad’ stereotype. East New York is especially representative of this statement if you look at the statistics – only 8.7 % of the households include a spouse and 1.7% include an unmarried partner. By focusing on the bond between Artrell and Allyssa, a single father and his daughter, “The Weight of the Sky” is able to bring in a depth that is often lacking in the conversation surrounding familial life in underprivileged African-American communities while simultaneously exposing the intergenerational effects of toxic masculinity and childhood trauma on a developing young girl navigating the crucial period of time between childhood and her teenage years. By focusing on young Allyssa’s experience the film is able to communicate these themes with the softness and delicacy that they require.