Warning: this may get long and this may get deep. And this is really a film review to which I will follow-up with a personal piece (maybe). Because it surrounds an issue that has permeated my life and the lives of those around me since I can even remember. And it’s about an issue that makes many folks, of all races, uncomfortable. It’s about color.
This weekend I had the pleasure of being a part of the press corp invited to screen Dark Girls, the movie directed by actor Bill Duke & D. Channsin Berry, which made its Atlanta premiere at the Fox Theatre. From the minute my heels hit Peachtree Street for this event, I was intrigued by people’s perspectives on even what “attending” this film meant. There were black women in sequins and stilettos and those in ripped jeans and sneakers. There were 6 and 7-year-old chocolate babies in tutus and tiaras. And there were white men and women in Black Tie (yes, tuxedos & ball gowns). All who had come to see this long-awaited documentary about the biases, attitudes, and impact of colorism, particularly as it relates to dark-skinned women. Dark Girls. Well clearly I needed to attend since, well, I’m a dark girl and as someone pointed out in the film “Dark girls are more organic.”
If you are like me, you saw this trailer about 6 months ago (thanks Fred), and got chills watching as the veil was being lifted, publicly, from the face of this issue that has been talked about by many for years and years. You read articles like the one on theroot.com months ago, explaining the deep seeded issues this movie would tackle and became excited about what may come from the film. Well, lets just say, in the end, I wanted more. Yes, says the never satisfied, dark skinned woman 🙂 But then again, it probably wasn’t made for me. Since I AM the dark girl. I get it. So since it was made for others, I’ll still share on its importance and the experience I had watching.
First, you can’t understand the struggle of racism or colorism without understanding where the root of some of the self-hate and intra-racial hatred comes from, which goes back to colonial times. The movie points out that from 1619-1965, Black people were not even considered to be a “person” and were systematically undervalued. So when you think about that, it hasn’t even been 50 years that we have had the same “rights” as others in this country. So in that short 50 years, we have, as a people, struggled to be better, relevant, and valued. Which has in turn has created factions in our community, and these factions are often divided by color (light vs. dark). Whether you’ve heard or experienced them with the brown paper bag test, or what I learned were “Snow & Blow Guidelines” (skin white as snow and hair that blows in the wind), if you are Black in America, you have come across these issues and perhaps even built an existence around preferences and beliefs derived from these antiquated ways.
An entire portion of the film was dedicated to “Men on Women”. There were comments that ranged from “Dark women just feel better” (smile) to “Dark women seem to have more of an attitude than light-skinned women and have low self-esteem. And then they take out their anger about being dark on unsuspecting people.” (say what?!) Do people really think that? I mean, educated people? Well the youngsters interviewed in the movie sure thought so. And this was the part of the movie that may have dredged out the most painful memories of being a dark girl. I sat and listened to, how I can only describe as a milk-chocolate brother, articulate how he wanted to marry a dark-skinned woman because he wanted to look at his child and see a resemblance to himself. I was instantly transported to the door of two very distant dating memories. One, from a guy I dated, who had previously dated light-skinned girls, who just couldn’t seem to commit (story of our lives). I overheard him one day describing the type of woman his history seemed to indicate he prefered. That girl wasn’t me. I wrote a poem about it called Black Like Me. It detailed in rhyme how he was closer to the motherland than me (he was part African), and his mother looked just like me in hue, yet this wasn’t what he wanted. Because I was too Black. Then I recalled another Creole guy I dated, who just loved me to death! “Oh yeah baby”, he sang in his Louisiana accent, “I can’t wait until we have babies! They are gonna be so pretty and particularly if they look like my people too….”. Excuse me sir? Well his people were the typical, fair-skinned, curly-haired, Creole people usually found in Louisiana. I told him, “Well I don’t look like your people. So there is a 50/50 chance that they will come out looking like me and my people.” He wasn’t amused. Nor was I. But that wouldn’t be the last time that my shade, what some may describe as special-dark, would play a role in relationships with the opposite sex. And as a professional woman, I think this film lacked a deeper conversation with professional men and women about the root of preferences in selection of a mate. I wasn’t looking for the film to answer the question of WHY, but I was looking for a deeper discussion of it.
Another portion of the film focused on the Global history and subsequent impact of colorism. Interviews of Black women from all over the world gave us a look into how international communities view dark-skinned women. And apparently everywhere EXCEPT the US, loves us! Everywhere else Black is beautiful. I went to law school in Italy one summer almost got kidnapped for being too beautiful in the middle of the Campo in Siena, by a wavy haired white man and his friend Fabio. I digress. The filmmaker reminded us that schools have always taught that Europe is the pinnacle of civilization and that all good things came from England. Now, although that may have been the case in school, that wasn’t the case in my household. And I think the film failed to close that loop by placing a responsibility on parents and teachers to teach the real birthplace of civilization and the contributions of Africans and African-Americans to the construction of this world, and especially the United States. My first memories were of my Dad making me read these thin series books on Black Achievements like the one on Black Inventors. At the age of 6, I was wowed that Benjamin Banneker drew the plans for the layout of building, streets, and monuments in our nation’s capital of Washington D.C. And although they had psychologists conclude by saying that we as a society must “self-correct”, the movie had the opportunity to charge viewers with more than it did. And I think that was a wasted opportunity to some degree.
Some other key parts of the film discussed how early images play a role in the development of children and their perspectives on color. They showed a little black girl being asked to look at a photo of 5 shades of little girls and to choose the smart girl (she chose the white girl because “she is light-skinned”) and then to choose the dumb girl (she choses the black girl because “she is black”). It was a really sad sight, albeit a realistic one. There was even a white hip-hop author, Soren Baker, who pointed out how hip-hop artists are quick to rep about black pride but then choose white or light-skinned girls to star in their music videos, especially as the love interest in the video. And anyone who has stomached one hour of BET’s 106th and Park can attest to that. It’s all about what sells I guess but the message that it sends is that light is right, and sexy, and desirable. And dark, well, it just isn’t. I haven’t seen a dark skinned girl get primetime play since Taral Hicks played Keisha in Belly. And we all remember that scene! If not, go ahead and click that link if you dare. If you were sitting watching Dark Girls and that was your first time hearing about or thinking about the role that images play in our self-assesment then yes, this movie was for you. Otherwise, it was really more of what you already knew, with a few more statistics, and anecdotes to add to your arsenal.
If the movie is showing in your city, by all means, please go and support this film! But leave your kids at home. Although the title and subject area make you want to bring your little brown girl, the substance is a bit too high level for kids under the age of 13 or 14. And the $50+ price tag that goes along with that child’s ticket is just too much to pay. Instead I’d say buy the DVD and use it as a starting point for discussions with children and adults about these issues. And be particularly careful to use it as a tool for teaching that it doesn’t matter what shade of black you are, but that we are all beautiful. That was missing for me from the movie. We can watch this movie, and share it with our children, but we must remember that the end goal is to promote all shade of black as being beautiful and to ensure that we aren’t pitting one hue against another. We have enough of that going on in society as it is.
Support Dark Girls and then go out and talk about it. Because if we don’t spread the message, and teach the lessons, then who will?