Darryl Roberts is a filmmaker whose documentary America the Beautiful: Is America Obsessed with Beauty? examined how popular culture and the media shape self-image and standards of attractiveness. In making the film, Roberts interviewed editors of fashion magazines, medical professionals who specialize in plastic surgery and other image-enhancement procedures, and even followed a teenage model as she tried to break into the fashion industry. "I think for a lot of my life I was a victim of falling only for beautiful women without realizing I was a victim," Roberts admitted in an interview with Richard Knight Jr. in the Windy City Times. "I think that kind of ruminated under the surface and came out in this documentary."
Roberts grew up on Chicago's predominantly African-American South Side. He studied marketing and accounting, and then, as he told Patrick McDonald on the Web site HollywoodChicago.com, "in 1986, I was in Los Angeles for the first time. I was driving down Sunset Boulevard, and out of the blue, I turned to my girlfriend at the time and said: ‘I'm going to make a movie.’" His first job in entertainment was as an announcer for WKKC-FM, a radio station run by Kennedy King College in Chicago, but he went on to a job with Seagram's, the liquor distiller and alcoholic-beverage distributor, as a wine salesperson. The income from that job provided the start-up costs for Roberts's local-access cable television show about the entertainment industry, Backstage with Darryl Roberts. It was such a hit that he was hired by the NBC television affiliate in Chicago, WMAQ, to host his own show, Hollywood Hype.
However, Roberts was still determined to make a film, and at one point took his computer to a pawnshop to finance production of a script he had written. The owner of the pawnshop took sympathy on him and contributed several thousand dollars of his own money so that Roberts could make How U Like Me Now, a comedy about a group of African-American professionals with intertwining careers and romances. Roberts wrote, directed, and acted in the film, which was released in 1993. It received few reviews. In Variety Emanuel Levy said that "Roberts shows a keen, witty eye for the small, telling detail" and concluded that the movie's "strong qualities are sociological rather than cinematic. But featuring the talent of a young helmer with a novel point of view, the film should serve as a calling card."
Roberts spent several years as a director of television commercials and music videos before embarking on the documentary that became America the Beautiful. The inspiration for it was a romance doomed by his own ego: He was dating an attractive woman, but was unable to commit fully to the relationship because he thought he could find someone even more attractive. When the woman married another man, a chastened Roberts began to question his values.
Though America the Beautiful examines messages in media that affect all Americans, Roberts notably focused on a few African-American voices. One of them was Gerren Taylor, a fashion model who was just twelve years old when Roberts discovered her on a runway during Los Angeles Fashion Week. Stunned to learn that the mature-looking Taylor was still an adolescent, he asked her and her mother if he could follow her with his camera as she tried to break into the industry's upper echelons in New York and Paris. They agreed. Taylor was a sensation for several months. Roberts told Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times that, according to New York State law, "no model should be on that runway unless they're fourteen years old. All of them bent the rules. Gerren brought publicity to their shows." By thirteen Taylor's career prospects had dwindled—partly because she could not remain as thin as French modeling agencies required. The film shows the tall, slim teenager being told that she is overweight.
The documentary also examines the constant flow of celebrity images on television, the Internet, and newsstands. Roberts interviewed an editor at Us Weekly about the glut of stories featuring young, glamorous starlets. She explained to him, he later told McDonald, that "the average American's life is very mundane. The more excitement and repetition [the magazines] generate regarding a beautiful celebrity means the reader will live vicariously through that life and absorb any information they can get about it."
At first Roberts had a difficult time finding a distributor for the documentary, but when it was shown at the American Film Institute festival in Dallas, it became the talk of the event, playing to full houses. He entered it in other film festivals as well; at the Chicago International Film Festival in 2007 he was named best director. First Independent Pictures agreed to distribute the film and gave it a slow rollout during the summer of 2008. In interviews he gave to promote the film, Roberts freely admitted that making America the Beautiful had proved a learning experience for him personally. When asked by Kathleen Stebbins in the Reno Gazette-Journal about his current views on beauty, he said, "My personal definition of beauty is a person that is confident, assured, kind and compassionate. Basically a person that cares about more than themselves, that when faced with choices concerning others will do the right thing the majority of the time."
At a Glance …
Born in Chicago, IL in 1962(?). Education: Studied marketing and accounting at Kennedy King College.
Career: WKKC-FM, Chicago, announcer; Seagram's, wine salesperson; Backstage with Darryl Roberts, a local-access cable television show, host; Hollywood Hype, WMAQ-TV, Chicago, host; commercial and video director; Sensory Overload Productions, founder.
Awards: Best Director Award for America the Beautiful, 2007 Chicago International Film Festival.
Addresses: Home—Chicago, IL. Office—c/o First Independent Pictures, 2999 Overland Ave., Ste. 218, Los Angeles, CA 90064.
How U Like Me Now, 1993.
America the Beautiful: Is America Obsessed with Beauty?, 2007.
Chicago Sun-Times, June 9, 2008.
Chicago Tribune, May 9, 2008.
Entertainment Weekly, August 20, 1993, p. 66.
Los Angeles Times, April 22, 2007.
Reno Gazette-Journal, October 28, 2007.
Variety, April 27, 1993, p. 41.
HollywoodChicago.com, March 30, 2008, http://www.hollywoodchicago.com/news/1963/chicago-filmmaker-darryl-roberts-to-screen-america-the-beautiful-at-midwest-independent-fi (accessed July 15, 2008).
Windy City Times, online edition, May 7, 2008, http://www.windycitymediagroup.com/gay/lesbian/news/ARTICLE.php?AID=18253 (accessed July 15, 2008).—Carol Brennan
"Roberts, Darryl." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (January 20, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/roberts-darryl
"Roberts, Darryl." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved January 20, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/roberts-darryl