Following the breakout success of his racially charged 2017 directorial debut film Get Out, Jordon Peele produced another intriguing piece of work with his latest horror / thriller, Us. Get Out, produced on a $4.5m (approx. £3.4m) budget saw Peel become the first African-American writer-director to earn $100m (approx. £75.8m) with his debut film. Produced with a $20m (approx. £15.1m) budget, Us also exceeded initial estimates since its release on 22 March 2019, reportedly making $87 (approx. £65.9m) worldwide so far.
However, unlike Get Out, Us is not entirely focussed on race and debunks the historic portrayal of African-Americans in horror films. As the focus of the film, the African-American family are notslaughtered in the opening scenes, which generally happens to black charactersin horror films, and their race is not fundamental to the plot. However, in atime where colourism (they ugly cousin of racism) is being discussed more openly,the depiction of a dark-skinned black family is important.
While colourism extends to many cultures, this post will focus on colourism within the black (of African descent) community
That Tweet (and all the others that have come before it) A few days ago, another anti-dark skin black girl tweet from 2012 resurfaced. UK TV personality, Maya Jama (a teenager at the time) girlfriend to Stormzy (a British-Ghanaian), one of the biggest grime artists in the UK, was exposed for tweeting this tweet – a quote from a comedian:
To top it off, Maya had to apologise twice because her initial apology was addressed to ‘all women’ and not specifically to dark skin black women.
Yes, Maya was young when she tweeted this quote from a comedian. However, black women have been brutalised physically and mentally for hundreds of years due to their skin tone, I don’t have sympathy for anyone who encourages this type of abuse (including the comedian who apparently said it initially).
Some were not best please with Maya Jama’s quoted tweet.
What also makes it worse is that, Maya has a black fan base and makes money from black culture (she hosted the UK MOBO awards last year). Now she is not the only celebrity ‘of colour’ (apparently, she is of Somali/Swedish descent) that has allied with the abuse of dark skin black women, that is why this post is not about her, but a more pressing problem.
What’s funny about the Maya Jama tweet from 2012 is that, AFRICAN women have been shaving their heads for decades! So, it’s funny that some believe dark skin black women should not wear a hairstyle that has been passed down the generations!
Colourism The negative connotations that come with having darker skin (especially as a woman) are palpable.
Stemming from slavery and colonisation the roots of colourism run deep, along with the global narrative that lighter skin (especially for women) = beauty, this isn’t a light-hearted issue and like racism ignites similar emotions.
What’s depressing about this whole colourism issue is that it’s perpetuated by US! Yes, black people. If black people abuse dark skin black women, then the flood gates are open for others to do the same, thinking it’s totally acceptable behaviour. The psychological abuse of dark skin black must stop, and this must start within the black community.
Slavery and colonisation were strategic in their psychological carving away of black self-worth. Many black people have internalised and perpetuate this self-hate as a fierce emotional a weapon.
It’s been noted on Twitter that celebrities who get the most attention for speaking out against racial discrimination have a ‘similar look’. Like Beyoncé (who is an amazing singer – #beychella), the perception is they are the ‘acceptable (more palatable) faces of black’.
Actress, Zendaya recently admitted that ‘light skin privilege’ within the black community does exist, when many choose to be coy about the subject. Zendaya frequently speaks about racial disparities and is applauded for doing so. However, If someone of a darker hue, e.g. Serena Williams were to do the same, more often than not would be crowned with the ‘angry black woman’ slur.
It’s about time we have honest conversations, acknowledging the ‘light skin privilege’ many black and mixed-race people posses. Allowing dark skin women to say how they feel, without being dismissed as jealous and angry of their light skin counterparts is important too.
“Unfortunately, I have a bit of a privilege compared to my darker sisters and brothers”.
“Can I honestly say that I’ve had to face the same racism and struggles as a woman with darker skin? No, I cannot.” – Zendaya in a 2016 Cosmopolitan interview
Even in the black entertainment industry the bias towards dark skin black women is evident. This beauty legacy, means that ‘the struggle’ is harder for dark skin black women. Along with everything else that was great about Black Panther, the concept of having a dark skin love interest (one which had a darker complexion than her male protagonist), played by Lupita N’yongo is not something we are used to, even in 2018.
Having powerful gate keepers like Shonda Rhimes, has given us characters like Anaalise Keating in ‘How to get Away with Murder’, played by Viola Davis. Nate Moore who works for Marvel Studios was instrumental in placing the Dora Milage via Black Panther on the big screen, which definitely had a billion-dollar impact! Despite this (and other exposures of dark skin black women) and hundreds of years post slavery, I’m still here in 2018 writing a post about colourism!
Maybe we need more representation in our local communities, professional and creative industries? But I’m not sure if this will shift the negative narrative around dark skin black women either. Are these perceptions actually changing? It’s hard to overcome the battle of the mind and like most psychological illnesses, I guess colourism requires some sort of ‘therapy’. The first step in this process is to admit there is a problem, so maybe we start there?
Any other suggestions on how we can move past colourism? Comment below.
There’s a brown girl in the ring tra la la la la…. You may not be familiar with this opening line to the Jamaican nursery rhyme, but you would definitely have heard of Lupita Nyong’o! Various phrases have been associated with the African actress, such as, “Pride of Africa”, “the most beautiful woman in the world” “Lupita Nyong’o dress”; the latter more so than anything else at the moment. Her acting skills brought Lupita centre stage, but designer outfits such as the grasshopper green Gucci dress debuted at the 2015 Cannes film festival, which ended yesterday, also keep Lupita in the spotlight.
It’s said that Hollywood is where dreams come true but Lupita’s meteoric rise to fame after winning the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in her first mainstream film, must have been written in destiny. Most actors have ‘a look’ about them; Lupita’s most conspicuous attribute is her skin, more accurately, it’s colour. Of course there are a few black actresses around but even in ‘black Hollywood’ we rarely see dark-skinned female actresses given a chance to display their skills let alone applauded for them. Unfortunately when a black actress steps onto the scene, it’s not just about the acting… skin complexion is usually part of the equation. Colourism, the fungus which keeps on spreading is still an issue in the African diaspora whether they are in Europe, the Americas or the Caribbean. However, it does exist in many parts of the world, including Asia, so isn’t just a ‘black problem’. It’s disheartening that the shade of skin has such a heavy influence on who is given opportunities and who isn’t, but this is the current scene of the world today. A dark-skinned African woman with short afro given a chance to shine and be celebrated in Hollywood (arguably the world’s stage for film and entertainment), is a bit of a misfit on the common narrative in this context. In April 2014 People Magazine, named Lupita the most “beautiful woman in the world”. With all the talk of her looks and red carpet dresses, it’s easy to forget that first and foremost Lupita is an actress and I’m glad to see that she is staying true to her love, after all beauty is only skin deep. I first saw Lupita in the African TV series Shuga, but was intrigued by her story like most people, once she garnered attention on the main stage. Lupita’s physical reflection is the opposite to what has been considered ‘acceptable’ by many (including black) cultures, especially in the entertainment business where looks are everything! She doesn’t have Nicki Minaj boobs and booty, which some believe is the epitome of the black female physique (real or surgically enhanced) celebrated in black culture, but she does have tightly coiled afro kinky hair and smooth onyx skin. We’re so used to NOT seeing female actress like her, that it was a shock when she appeared on international screens and the same can be said for Viola Davis.
No one is perfect but within that Lupita oozes confidence, humility and joy. There was a time when she didn’t like her own complexion and asked God to change it. However, her talent on the big screen is a breath of fresh air, inspiring other women from all walks of life as she is the latest person to put the spotlight on the general perception of beauty, which just like talent comes in many guises.
In my eyes, Lupita Nyong’o is An African ‘Affecter’.
Affect (verb): Have an effect on; make a difference to.
Some of the most talked about films this new year are unlikely to put you in a jovial mood; the big screen has illuminated the darkness of slavery and the struggles endured even after black people were supposed to be free. I wonder if there is another agenda apart from that these stories need to be told, as to why such films have been released in close succession or if it’s just coincidence?
After Quentin Tarantino’s international success Django Unchanied, I’ve continued to follow big screen releases depicting injustices experienced when you have melanin in your skin. I went to the White House with The Butler and walked the freedom road with Mandela. Watching the latter, I saw how liberating the power of forgiveness can be but also how necessary it is to understand how your enemies think. I’ve already said how I felt when arguably the biggest icon of the century passed away in my post, Mandela – Finally retired from retirement, but watching the film a few weeks later (I must say, Naomie Harris’ performance was overlooked at the big award shows; although she was honoured at the Capri-Hollywood Film Festival), it was just sad. Among the charismatic speeches, the harmonising protest songs and the courage of black South Africans, Nelson Mandela’s life was very lonely. I guess it was like that for most of the freedom fighters. No amount of Nobel Peace Prizes can compensate for 27 years in captivity.
I am yet to see the 9x Oscar nominated 12 Years A Slave, I’m trying to put it off for as long as possible because I know it will be depressing. The fact that these stories are based to true events makes them even harder to digest. I am happy at the exposure black actors are receiving (hoping this wont just be a flash in the pan); it’s important for everyone not just black people for these stories to be told. We are all aware of intimate accounts of the Holocaust, I read the Diary of Anne Frank at school but was taught nothing about slavery, the Civil Rights movement, Africa’s fight for independence from colonial rule, the uprisings in the Caribbean etc. Black history was not taught in my school and I grew up in London, the most ethnically diverse region in the UK. Side note – it’s time for black actors to receive accolades for roles other than when they play drug dealers, maids and slaves, but let me not digress.
This is not a game of who suffered the most, Blacks or Jews? But it’s interesting that one of the longest periods of human atrocity after the death and resurrection of Christ isn’t taught widely in British schools. Slavery was a significant chunk of world history. Slavery gave the world some of the most iconic buildings, while making the West and Arab countries rich beyond their wildest dreams. During the release of his critically acclaimed film, Steve McQueen has called for slavery to be taught in British schools. I agree to some extent, but think black history not just slavery should be taught! Why? You may ask; well Britain played a significant part in the transatlantic slave trade, with Liverpool (previously holding the title of ‘City of Culture’ and home to the International Slavery Museum, the first of its kind in the UK) dominating in the transit of slaves. It’s estimated that during the twenty years before the abolition of the slave trade around 75% of all European slave ships left from Liverpool to collect slaves. Currently millions of black people of African, Caribbean and South American descent live in Britain and so do their children. It’s important for them to identify with their history. A poignant quote from the trailer of George Clooney’s new film, The Monuments Men, is one of many on how our past is key to our very existence.
“You can wipe out a whole generation, you can burn their homes to the ground and somehow they’ll still find their way back. But if you destroy their history, destroy their achievements, it’s as if they never existed”.
The psychological wounds of slavery haven’t healed completely, so the way in which it is taught should be conducted intelligently. Learning about Africa BEFORE the slave trade is just as important as the most infamous period in the continent’s history, and will fill black children with a sense of perspective and pride rather than feeling constantly ashamed about their history in a classroom full of friends. The facts about Africans being very skilled in astronomy, mathematics, architecture (underground churches) among other subject areas which are rarely attributed to them and having organised kingdoms such as that of Mali, Benin and the Asante shouldn’t be left to collect dust. Any man, woman or child can learn valuable lessons from black history; lessons of ingenuity, forgiveness, tenacity, love, greed, hatred, fear, strength and the human spirit. It’s 2014, it’s time black history is taught in British schools; ignoring the subject as if it isn’t relevant does more harm than good.
After opening in August 2007, over a million people have walked back into history at the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool, UK. The vision for the museum stated on its website reads:
“The transatlantic slave trade was the greatest forced migration in history. And yet the story of the mass enslavement of Africans by Europeans is one of resilience and survival against all the odds, and is a testament to the unquenchable nature of the human spirit.
In 1994, National Museums Liverpool opened the Transatlantic Slavery Gallery, the first of its kind in the world. This gallery has achieved huge visitor numbers and impact, but there is now a pressing need to tell a bigger story because of its relevance to contemporary issues that face us all.
Our vision is to create a major new International Slavery Museum to promote the understanding of transatlantic slavery and its enduring impact. Our aim is to address ignorance and misunderstanding by looking at the deep and permanent impact of slavery and the slave trade on Africa, South America, the USA, the Caribbean and Western Europe. Thus we will increase our understanding of the world around us.”
Dr David Fleming, OBE.
The 2014 Oscars are on 2nd March, with 12 Years A Slave receiving 9 nominations, including Best Director for Steve McQueen. McQueen is the 3rd black person to be nominated for this category after John Singleton (Boyz n the Hood) and Lee Daniels (Precious). If he wins, the London-born Grenadian will make history! Watch this space…