June 27, 2013
By Shonasse Shaver
The Long overdue documentary, ‘Dark Girls’ will force America to take a look at the harsh discrimination that faces dark-skin African American woman, their plight, complexities and unshakeable scars.
Legendary filmmaker Bill Duke’s ‘Dark Girls’ explores deep into the lives of dark-skin African American women and what it means to be a dark-skinned. Many of these woman encounter prejudices before of their skin and are victims of such prejudice within and outside her own race.
Duke also depicts the struggles, the taunting and the abuse they encounter women face and how they loathe themselves for it.
“Young black girls need a voice,” explained Duke.
“From the ages of 7, 8, 9 and 10 [they] are being called monkeys. Babies are not exempt.”
As Bill Duke depicts in his documentary, colorism is real. A Black woman in America is born at a disadvantage economically, socially and financially to her white counterpart. However, a dark skinned Black woman, encounters a double disadvantage to her white counterpart, and to a light-skinned Black woman. Dark-skinned Black women are frequently passed over in relationships because of their complexion.
“Two teenage girls 16 to 17-years old wept after a Q& A session. I asked why they were crying so deeply and they said that they were not invited to the prom. Up to three years ago, a Black woman in her late 30s had never ridden in the passenger seat of a man’s car,” disclosed Duke. “I have gone to my boyfriend’s house and he makes me ride in the passenger as his assistant,” she confessed to Duke. As unbelievable as this may sound, this is the reality for many women because of the tone of their skin.
The women suffer from low self esteem, depression and ridicule. Television and society defines beautiful women as those blond hair with blue eyes. Subsequently, even African American women aspire to such promotions and men gravitate to it.
Duke is tackling a most difficult issue head on and he uses his platform built from a successful acting career to ignite conversation about the matter. “At the Apollo Theatre, a woman shouted out to me, ‘why are you airing our dirt stinking up the house,’ said Duke.
“We cannot keep pretending that colorism does not exist. Many of us are too ashamed and pained to talk about it. We cannot continue to deflect the huge elephant in the room.
“It is the year of 2013, right? We’re passed the colonial times and American slavery. Why are we continuing this process.” No argument there, we have definitely reached a moment in time where such ignorance should not be tolerated. Comparable to racism, colorism is as current that has chopped at the heels of the first Black President Barack Obama.
It’s shocking to discover, Blacks bleaching their skin like Michael Jackson to become acceptable in a society that shuns them.
“Skin bleaching is a billion dollar business. Dark-skin African Americans are bleaching their skin. How unfortunate that this is a universal problem. Men in India are bleaching their skin to appeal to women.” Duke explains, “The field worker has dark skin and the office worker has light skin.” This is a bit nostalgic to American slavery, where there was the field slave versus the house slave. This is deep. Can we actually believe that this type of logic still exists?
The irony with this problem is that while dark-skinned Black women are lighting their skin and wearing weaves, “white women are getting butt implants and crinkling their hair to look like us,” added Duke. Can we say this behavior is learned from the media? We rarely see positive and beautiful images of dark-skin African American women; therefore we don’t recognize the beauty of ourselves. When asked how he felt about the controversy surrounding actress Zoe Saldana playing iconic jazz singer Nina Simone in a biopic, Duke responded, “Hollywood is a contradiction. They tend to go with what is safe.”
There was a bit of controversy with the casting of Zoe Saldana as Nina Simone. Zoe Saldana, a proud Afro-Latina actress had to be darkened and wear a prosthetic nose to achieve the physical appearance of Nina Simone. “She was friend of mine. She wore her hair natural on her album cover. She talked about loving Black women and men. She was a hero,” said Duke. This is not to say Zoe Saldana would not be able to connect to Nina Simone because her ethnicity difference. However, there are many dark-skin Black actresses such as Viola Davis, Angela Bassett, Gabrielle Union, Jennifer Hudson, Tika Sumpter, Nia Long and Regina King who could have been cast to play Nina Simone. Yet, Hollywood went with what was familiar to them, a Black actress who has European –like features to play a black woman on screen.
It can be hard for dark-skin African American actresses to get work in films or on television, but when a film calls for a Black actress, she is frequently replace by someone close to white.
Zoe Saldana is A-list star in box office films. “We have to keep in mind films and castings are done from a global perspective. These are business tactics. In their (casting directors) mind, they do not feel that they are doing anything wrong,” said Duke.
Sending the wrong message is not new in Hollywood and dark-skinned girls and women are not deemed acceptable to portray certain roles.
It is a reflection of our time says Lanita Jacobs, an anthropology professor at the University of Southern California who often lectures on the portrayal of African-Americans in film and on television, and says Saldana's casting and subsequent transformation into Simone is offensive to women who have struggled with self-image.
Hollywood cannot be solely at fault for this harmful issue that lies within the lack community. Bill Duke’s ‘Dark Girls’ will not change the negative experiences dark-skin Black women experience. “The documentary gives the voiceless and a voice,” said Duke. Finally, Black women who are experiencing colorism are talking back to their bullies, naysayers, and critics.
The documentary is not used to expel the notions that all dark-skin Black women are bad, undesirable, unintelligent, or lower class. But to use Bill Duke’s documentary as a medium where we can ask ourselves what are we going to do about the situation? Are we going to continue to indulge in self- hatred, calling dark-skin Black girls monkeys and degrading them for their darker skin tone?
“It has to start in the home. It needs to be a school program implemented to encourage students to love one another and embrace the color of all races and skin complexions,” stated Duke.
“We should not look to ‘Dark Girls’ to broaden the perspective of the ideal beauty. However, create a space where dark-skin African American women leading isolated lives can feel a part of the mass culture like never before.
“We need to be a movement to uplift our dark skin sistas,” said Duke. We need to show the world that dark-skin sistas are no different from their light-skin sistas.
“Oprah fought for broadcasting for ‘Dark Girls.’ She showed commitment to this issue,” said Duke. Dr. Channsin Berry and Bill Duke’s Documentary will aired on OWN network last week. On Oprah’s Next Chapter, she with an intimate person-to-person conversation with actresses Viola Davis, Alfre Woodard, Gabrielle Union and Phylicia Rashad on how successful black women are still being plagued by the color of their skin.