Are You Being Represented?

Asha-Lee Peterkin, Staff Writer

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Colorism has been present for centuries in black America. In the United States, the roots of colorism began during slavery. Slave owners typically gave preferential treatment to slaves with fairer complexions. While dark-skinned slaves worked hard outdoors in the fields, their light-skinned counterparts often worked indoors at far less exhausting domestic tasks. This same mentality has seemingly continued for centuries.

Though black women have been landing more significant parts in movies these days, the issue of colorism in Hollywood cannot be ignored any longer. It is not secret that 2018’s Black Panther was celebrated as a ground breaking film. According to Steven Zeitchik from The Washington Post, it was the first Marvel Cinematic Universe film with a majority all-black cast and set in Africa. However, it was also ground breaking for another reason, the women. In case you were not swept up in the Black Panther frenzy, all the women in Wakanda are dark-skinned, which, for black women, is not something we see very often within media.

According to Bossip, an online entertainment magazine with a focus on African American celebrities, Denzel Washington says Viola Davis is proof colorism does not exist in Hollywood. Washington goes on to say, “You can say, ‘Oh I didn’t get the part because they gave it to the light-skinned girl’, or you can work, and one day, it might take twenty years, and you can be Viola. The easiest thing to do is to blame someone else, the system. Yeah, well, there’s a possibility, maybe, that you’re not good enough, but it’s easy to say it’s someone else’s fault.”

It may be easy for Washington to say this at this point in his career. Perhaps this is because he has not faced the issue or has lost touch with the challenges that other actors – especially women of color – face. For female actresses of color – especially dark-skinned actresses – the issue is not one of simply blaming someone else.

Though Davis has done very well for herself, her journey has not been easy. Even as a decorated actress in Hollywood, she is not getting paid like one. Davis explained the challenges that she has faced in this regard at the 2018 Women in the World Los Angeles Salon “People say, ‘You’re a black Meryl Streep. You are and we love you.’ … ‘Well, then if there’s no one like me. You pay me what I’m worth,'” she said. Davis estimated that actresses of color get paid “probably a tenth of what a Caucasian woman gets,” which, she also pointed out, “is half of what a man is getting paid.”

Based on American media, an outsider could rightfully assume the vast majority of black women in this country are light-skinned, which is not the case. Representation matters, and it’s becoming a proven fact with every artistic medium that implements diversity in skin color in their narratives. Apart from giving black actors the typical outdated role of the “eccentric black best friend”, Hollywood script writers need to start casting darker-skinned black actors in their movies in more diverse roles. Many films and TV shows portray dark skin women as angry and “ghetto,” which is not only wrong and honestly quite racist, but seems to be outside the scope of where we want America to be as a nation. As a young, dark skinned African American woman, it would be nice to see more women like me in respectable roles that young women like me can relate to.

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Are You Being Represented?