A still from the documentary Daughters, directed by Angela Patton and Natalie Rae

David Ehrlich of “Indiewire” wrote of “Daughters,” that it was “An enormously moving documentary” and that it had “as much ugly-cry potential as anything in recent memory.” The film, directed by Angela Patton and Natalie Rae, gives us the background on a unique father-daughter dance for D.C.-area Black girls whose fathers are in jail. Ehrlich called it “A damning portrait of America’s prison-industrial complex.” The information that single mothers struggling to make it on their own while their significant others are incarcerated for years makes the point that the relatives are charged to visit their loved ones. This seems like adding insult to injury, although the inmates obviously committed crimes that led to their incarceration, which is downplayed in this documentary.

In order to be allowed to participate in the daddy/daughter dance the prisoners must take a course in parenting. Some of the participants admit that, initially, they only signed up for the daddy/daughter instruction in order to get an extra in-person opportunity. Later, they say  that participating has been beneficial to them as people. Indeed, the recidivism of the men who take part seems to be much better than the average prisoner. The testimony of the prisoners is very interesting, but the leader of the class is pedantic and not very interesting, for the most part. It is far more engrossing to listen to the prisoners, the children and the women waiting on the outside. For me, the sequences that involved the instructor teaching the class were only interesting when the prisoners were allowed to talk and tell their stories. This film could have dispensed with the pedantic prison employee and simply cut from prisoner’s story to prisoner’s story with better results.

Little Aubrey at age 5 is enchanting. The film goes back 8 years later, and the bright little girl has become a jaded teenager who says she never wants to be a mother and expresses her broken spirit in so many other ways. Mark (a prisoner) who is the father of Santana reveals that Santana was born when her mother (Diamond) was only 14 and he was 16. The personal details are enlightening, but the segment goes on too long. The entire film needed a good editor.

Music supervisors Sunny Kapoor and Connie Edwards did a fine job, and the film provides enough food for thought to keep us pondering for weeks. It won a Festival Favorite Award at Sundance (2024) for the directors’ first feature documentary.

But, in terms of the story this film is telling,  the prison system beat goes on, and it is heart-wrenching.