The standout documentary selection at 2017’s Urbanworld Film Festival for me was Renee Bluitt’s excellent business doc She Did That. Black women’s businesses generate over $50 billion dollars in revenue annually so the examination of black women’s lives from this perspective is way overdue. Featuring multiple Black and Hispanic entrepreneurs, the film delves into the history of black female entrepreneurship, the social dynamics that have recently pushed many black women to strike out on their own, the challenges of just starting and what it takes to keep going. Now, Netflix is streaming this gem of a film.
The main subjects were Luvvie Ajayi (New York Times best-selling author, speaker and digital strategist), Lisa Price (founder, Carol’s Daughter), Melissa Butler (founder, The Lip Bar) and Tonya Rapley (founder, My Fab Finance). Rapley gave a harrowing account of rebuilding her life after breaking up with a boyfriend when he held a gun to her head. She ran away from the relationship into the waiting arms of her mother when she then discovered that he had wiped her out financially. Determined not to be defeated, she did what she had to to get out from under the debt and now shares her experiences through her blog and personal appearances.
This is the first film from Renae Bluitt who, coming from a family of entrepreneurs always knew she wanted to run her own business- just not the family business. Bluitt has run the successful In Her Shoes blog and is founder of Brooklyn-based beauty PR consultancy Crush Media.
Bluitt’s father appears in the film sharing his desire that Renee grab the baton from him but also his support, when he saw that she wanted to apply her skills and talents elsewhere. It is a brief scene but powerful as it speaks to an element of guilt that holds some women back from chasing their dreams- the expectations from family and friends and the feeling of not wanting to let others down. In order to be successful and live a full life, however, it is an obstacle that many must overcome.
Perhaps one of the most well-known of the subjects is co-owner and founder of The Lip Bar, Melissa Butler. Butler and her Creative Director, after pitching the idea for The Lip Bar to popular business reality show Shark Tank, were coldly shot down by judge Kevin O’Leary who told them that their chances of making it a successful business were “practically zero” since the market was already so saturated. In fact, the whole panel seemed to snicker at them the whole time. O’Leary went on to tell them competitors would, “crush you like the colorful cockroaches you are.” Butler persevered however, and enjoys a flourishing business. Her company or products have been featured in Essence, Ebony, Cosmopolitan, and The New York Times and she recently began distributing through Target stores.
There were also other contributors such as owners of restaurant The Crabby Shack, a laid-back eatery favorably reviewed by both The New York Times and New York Magazine. A poignant lesson in pressing on and the importance of support and friendship, owners of the Brooklyn based restaurant went through a tough time after the untimely passing of Gwen Brooks’ husband. Fifi Bell Clanton almost dissolves into tears when she speaks of wanting to make sure she was there for her friend and for the business through a challenging development in life. They also made a point that tough life circumstances can be a catalyst, forcing them to find strengths and talents that they didn’t realize they had.
Bluitt smartly has a section on mental health and self-care for entrepreneurs. Too often when stories like this are created, the complete focus is on what to do to be more profitable financially. However, as the Bible says, “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? (NIV Matthew 16:26). Taking care of the mind and soul ensures that humanity isn’t lost even as your company grows.
Myleik Teele, owner of the wildly popular Curlbox a hair care subscription company is known by her many social media followers as someone who has not only made it a point to give back valuable information about what it takes to succeed but also imparting the message that it is okay for black women to seek mental health assistance from professionals and that it is something she has done for years. She re-ups that message here.
There is a whole section on men and how they can be supportive of a woman’s entrepreneurial ambitions. Lisa Price’s husband colorfully recalls the tough mornings in the early days of the business when they ran the business from their home. There were many times when he had to roll out of bed at dawn to help in ways that were important to keeping clients happy and keeping the business running but not usually heralded or celebrated especially when done by a man such as making coffee and serving breakfast to clients. It all paid off in the end and Price was famously able to eventually distribute her products from traditional B2B and B2C storefronts. He colorfully recalls dancing naked at home the first day that they had moved operations outside the home.
Bluitt has made a truly important film charting a area of Black women’s lives and histories that don’t get talked about enough. Check it out on Netflix now.