Dark Girls is the critically-acclaimed documentary about dark-skinned girls and women growing in up a world that demonizes their skin color. The film originally aired on Oprah Winfrey’s cable channel OWN and had everyone talking. The film was written and directed by Bill Duke and D. Channsin Berry.
Dark Girls opens with a beautiful young girl sitting with her mother. Her eyes are downcast and she looks sad. She is an extremely lovely dark-skinned child. When asked how she felt when someone says that she is a “beautiful Black girl,” this gorgeous child says that she doesn’t like being called Black. To hear a girl who cannot be more than five years old say something like that was absolutely heartbreaking. Already, that child has felt the sting of negativity because of her dark skin. As I kept watching, the film went deeper into the roots of colorism and how it affects women not just in the United States, but also around the world. Colorism is a global problem and affects women even in countries many would think did not have this issue. Dark Girls put the spotlight on the name-calling, self-loathing and hatred dark-skinned girls deal with on a day-to-day basis and exposed how men, women, society and the media feel about dark women and the negative messages they are constantly faced with.
Dark Girls delved into the origin of colorism, which has become so prevalent in the United States thanks to slavery. The war of “light skin vs. dark skin” was used as a way to keep Blacks separated, putting darker slaves into the fields to suffer extreme hard labor while the lighter-skinned slaves were allowed to work inside the homes of their masters. This separation caused a rift in the Black community, pitting those with light skin against those with darker complexions. The infamous “Paper Bag Test” was also used as a way to measure beauty and desirability, adding to the negative stereotype that dark skin was not attractive. Colorism pervades every area of society and nowhere is it more prevalent than in Hollywood. Women like Halle Berry, Vanessa Williams and Paula Patton are considered beautiful and sexy and usually offered roles emphasizing that societal ideal. On the other hand, women like Viola Davis (who talked about her struggles with colorism in the film) are relegated to parts as servant (The Help) or struggling mother (Doubt). This isn’t to say that Ms. Berry, Ms. Williams and Ms. Patton are not beautiful or sexy, but it also means that Ms. Davis is and should be offered the same roles.
As I watched this fascinating and sometimes upsetting film, I remembered everything I went through as a young dark-skinned girl. When I lived in the Bronx, I had friends of all shades and races and no one cared that I had dark skin. Everyone just assumed that I took after my mother and left it at that. It wasn’t until I moved to Washington, D.C. when I was confronted with the reality that not everyone, including my own people, thought Black was beautiful. Thankfully, I had a family who always told me that I was beautiful and not to listen to the negativity. Did that always work? I can honestly say no because we as human beings tend to hear and believe the negative more than the positive. But eventually, I learned that it is not my problem that people do not like my dark skin, it is theirs.
But it is not only Black women who suffer from colorism. As I stated before, this issue is a global one. In the film, a young Korean-American woman, who basically looks like she just has a tan, saw the difference in her skin when she visited South Korea. The young woman stated that when she was at the mall with her mother, a stranger walked up to them and asked if the young girl’s father was Black. She said that everyone she encountered while in South Korea was “ghostly white” because of the desire to be as light as possible. Countries like South Korea, Thailand and Sierra Leone have seen an increase in women who bleach their skin. Many see the images coming from America through television and movies and think lighter is better. What does that say about our society when women alter their natural appearance to feel beautiful? How do we tackle such self-hatred when women are being bombarded with messages stating that the skin they were born with is not good enough?
Dark Girls should be watched, if only to create a dialogue about the damage being done to women of color around the world. Although there are many positive images out there that show women of all shades doing wonderful things, there are still too many girls and women who dislike the skin they are in. Colorism, like racism, will continue to destroy the self-esteem girls and women need to be productive and successful members of their community. I only hope that the young girls and women struggling with colorism learn, and believe, that they too are beautiful.
Dark Girls is available now on DVD.
Photos courtesy of Katrina Wan PR