by Joneka Percentie

I began my research simply. I rephrased the key search words several times: Black women and eating disorders, eating disorders and Black women, disordered eating among Black women.

Each search yielded few results.

Very little research has been done on Black women and eating disorders. With hardly any statistics specifically about Black women and the way many deal with disordered eating, a lot of people are lead to believe that Black women cannot have eating disorders at all–people assume there isn’t a problem if no one is talking about it. The idea that an entire group of people cannot suffer from an eating disorder is harmful for many reasons, a big one being that girls will believe that they are alone in their struggles. When Black girls are excluded from conversations about eating disorders, skewed perceptions leave them without the resources and tools to receive the treatment and help that they need. Empowered by her own battle with an eating disorder and self-harm, Tchaiko Omawale has set out to create a feature length film of her short, Solace.

The difficult transformation from short to feature length film has already begun. Solace began as a short film after a feature piece Tchaiko wrote for the GAEA Artist for Change residency. The feature script was later submitted to Sundance, where it was a Sundance Writers Labs Finalist in 2012.

Now, Tchaiko needs help in the final step of the journey journey to transform Solace into a feature film. The Solace Kickstarter campaign needs $30,000 in donations in order to be funded, and the campaign has already raised over half of its goal. Support in whatever ways you can, whether it’s a personal donation or sharing the campaign with family and friends!

“For the feature film I’m very clear that the tone is going to be different. I want it to be fun, I want it to be silly because that is a part of my personality,” said Tchaiko. The film will look at the joys of being a teenager as well as its painful shadows.

I had the joy of talking with Tchaiko in 2013 about Solace and the important task it takes on: portraying the complexities of dealing with an eating disorder as a young Black woman. Solace follows the personal journey of Sole, a teenage girl who searches for a way to express her pain and finds inspiration through her neighbor, a mysterious dancer named Jasmine.

“It’s really important for me to share [stigmas of eating disorders] through film and to make this feature film so that other black girls don’t think that they’re the only girls dealing with stuff like that. When I was younger, I didn’t realize that bingeing or compulsive eating were eating disorders, I just thought I had no control.”

In hopes of fighting the idea that Black women cannot have eating disorders and breaking the silence, Solace brings a young Black woman’s struggle with an eating disorder to light–hopefully with more research and studies of eating disorders among Black women to follow its lead.

Tchaiko describes the process of creating Solace as “an incredibly painful journey.”

“Most [of the time] I felt very alone, but I soon came to learn that there were a lot of other people that shared the same experiences with me. It became really important for me to make a film for all those other people that feel that they’re also alone.”

Personal storytelling is painful and difficult, whether it’s through film, poetry, or any other artistic medium.  “I like the idea of feminism being the things that empower women can also allow them to embrace their vulnerability and how we can support each other and find strength within the things that make us feel vulnerable,” said Hope Olaidé Wilson, who portrays Sole in the short film.

“I feel a strong sense that this is much much bigger than my own experience or my first feature film,” said Tchaiko. “This is something that I absolutely have to do and I’m going to do it no matter what it takes.”

If you’re struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237. 

If you’re struggling with self-harm, call the Self-Injury Foundation hotline at 1-800-334-4357