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March 1, 2022, marks the first day of the annual Mardi Gras celebration in New Orleans, and one documentarian is spotlighting a centuries-old tradition that has been carried by Black women throughout the festival’s history.

The Mardi Gras baby dolls were spearheaded by Black women during the Jim Crow Era in New Orleans. The festive group of women would dress up in extravagant gowns and gaudy accessories to celebrate their liberation and the essence of Black womanhood. Filmmaker Vashni Korin, who’s the mastermind behind the new short documentary “You Can’t Stop The Spirit,” said she became intrigued with the tradition’s rich history after studying at the Xavier University of Louisiana. Korin wrote in the New York Times, that she was enamored by the way the Baby Dolls “gave themselves permission to be free.”

Korin continued:

“They were fierce and unapologetic in their self-liberation, challenging how they were expected to exist in society. Their rich personal stories also contained wisdom about how to thrive and live a life of purpose and about what is possible when people of the African diaspora claim full permission to take on a different identity. Masking traditions like these are a way of setting oneself free in the hope of coming closer to one’s most authentic self.”

If you happen to be celebrating Mardi Gras this year in The Big Easy, you just might see a parade of baby dolls strolling down the streets of New Orleans in their elaborate costumes while performing a few moves from their legendary line dances. Korin takes a deeper look at the decades-long tradition in her new documentary.

Check out a trailer for the stunning project below.


Mardi Gras is a Christian holiday with roots that extend beyond New Orleans. Also known as Carnival or Carnaval, it’s celebrated in many countries around the world, leading up to the start of the religious Lent season. Places like Brazil and Venice also play host to some of the holiday’s most famous public festivities, “drawing thousands of tourists and revelers every year,” notes.


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