A few weeks ago I went to the premiere screening of the new inter-sectional vegan documentary, The Invisible Vegan. The documentary focused on veganism and its positive aspects on the African American (black) community. It follows Jasmine Leyva, who is also the director, on her own personal journey of coming to terms with her diet, health, and happiness.
I was also fortunate enough to see the Q&A after the premier where many of those featured in the film answered questions from a very curious audience. Hearing the questions I immediately realized, this was an audience of primarily non-vegans, which was great! I have been vegan for over 8 years, so this documentary was not for me in that respect, I have often been the only black person, so it was refreshing to see a documentary catered to my specific issues. Knowing that, I watched it to see how it spoke to the black community and addressed some of the general concerns with veganism and food in general.
As someone who has watched vegan documentaries for years, seen all the major ones from Cowspiricy, to Earthlings, to What the Health, etc, it was immensely refreshing to see a vegan documentary speak on the concerns of black people adopting this lifestyle. It focused more on "plant based" veganism, which is the new terminology for more healthy eating veganism as opposed to simply not eating animals, which is fine. I wanted to clear up how they address veganism in the documentary as more personal health related as opposed to ethical related. That's all the beauty of inter-sectionalism.
By far, the strongest part of the documentary was the health aspects that specifically related to the black community. I'd never heard a documentary address the lactose intolerance issue among PoC, though I'd been saying it for a long time. It also spoke on food deserts. It was utterly refreshing to hear information like that brought up and addressed. I wish with all my heart there was more of that focus in the documentary. It was by far the most sound information a meat eater and an already established vegan could walk away with.
Knowing that this documentary was made for the meat eater, I felt the segments where Jasmine was having meals out with her friends were incredibly strong. That first person/word of mouth instant reaction material caught with the friends was fantastic. I wished it were threaded through the film with more consistency, intersected with the really strong speakers that she had, but as it felt in the viewing, they felt like afterthoughts to the larger narrative, when I felt they could have been used as real game changers to the views with the audience. I strongly wish there was more of that content in the film.
The speakers and interviews in the documentary were great. Many of them I had seen before but the two that stuck out to me most were of course Dr. Milton Mills, and the unknown to me, fantastic Christopher-Sebastian McJetters. He was my favorite part of the documentary. What he said, how he said it and the scope to which he spoke addressing the black community, Christopher-Sebastian was a fantastic voice.
Seeing how this film was to bridge the gap black people and questions on veganism, there are a few things I wish were different. There were a few instances in the documentary, mainly among the friends at the meals, where stereotypes of veganism were spoken but often the documentary didn't pause to address those stereotypes in that moment.
There are A LOT of visuals of meat cooking in this documentary. I'm not talking about animal exploitation, but more when someone would talk about meat, it would cut to stock footage of meat being cooked, or carved, or seasoned, or BBQ or roasted, etc. So much so to the point I noticed it. I thought that was very strange as I felt the footage wasn't presented as being a negative thing, but almost an advertisement. There was no gradual transition to non-meat alternatives with those visuals to bridge the thoughts of the audience to "you can eat this instead".
My last critique is the pacing. The documentary is divided into "chapters" with a title card at the start of each segment that is being addressed. It was clean and polished and looked very nice, but at the start of the film as a whole, I wish I had known how many chapters there were in the film. When it broke into double digits (I think there were 12 altogether), it started to make the documentary feel longer than it was.
If there had been a visual "chapter list" at the start of the film, not even so much that we can read all of their descriptions, but like an "okay, there are 12 segments in this film" I think that would have helped with pacing tremendously.
For the most part I was thrilled with the documentary, I think it speaks to an audience that is greatly undeserved and takes its own space in the vegan world. The director mentioned in the QnA that this is a rough cut and their could be some reworking. I would hope so because the information expressed in the film is fantastic.
Check out the trailer, and consider backing the film for distribution.
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