Growing up in a predominantly white school, I heard “yeah you’re pretty, pretty for a Black girl” quite often. As a Black woman, that phrase left a mark- one that took a long time to heal. To put it blatantly, it’s dehumanizing and exhausting to hear.. The statement “you’re pretty for a Black girl” is often used to “compliment” Black girls, but in reality, it’s extremely backhanded. This phrase implies that in comparison to the rest of the women in your demographic you are the only exception of beauty.
Oftentimes the media portrays most Black women as having fair skin and loose wavy hair. Picture Zendaya for example, a biracial woman who is often deemed the most attractive in the media’s eyes. Headline upon headline depicts Zendaya as an icon, one representing Black women around the world. Agreed, Zendaya is extremely beautiful; but she doesn’t represent girls like me. Although it’s great to have a biracial actor, we should stray away from only representing Black women as one type: fair-skinned & loose curled. The fact is, portraying Black women as one phenotype has allowed colorist ideas to foster.
This is problematic for many reasons. For starters, the portrayal of Black women as one type has led many to only find beauty in fairer tones, as well as only push lighter skin Black women in the media. By only deeming light skin women “worthy of being portrayed”, the entertainment industry fails to acknowledge the beauty in dark-skin women. If the onscreen representation of Black women isn’t diversified, the appreciation for other skin tones depletes. In addition, the lack of representation causes an increase in self-deprecation: this can be seen in those struggling with internalized racism. When dark-skin women are on television, they’re often given side roles.
Take for instance Coco Jones, a Disney star whose career skyrocketed after her role in the hit TV movie “Let It Shine.” Jones mentions in one of her YouTube videos that part of the reason she didn’t receive many acting roles after Let It Shine was because of colorism. Jones said, “if somebody else looks a little more marketable, it doesn’t matter how much talent you have.” Jones claims that casting directors displayed bias when it came to providing her with roles. They would often select actors based on skin tone, rather than talent. This is very common in the industry and can often lead to situations where only one type of Black woman is cast…the one with lighter skin.
The sad thing is, the fact that this is so common means that dark-skin women are constantly being denied roles because of the biases in the entertainment industry. This devastating fact just proves that darker skin women- like Coco Jones- are disproportionately excluded from opportunities due to the large part that these biases have to play.
Casting girls that are not based on talent is extremely detrimental for dark-skin girls who are trying to “make it” in the industry. Thousands of dark-skin women are being denied roles simply because of their appearance. But, what can put an end to these discriminatory biases? If anything, casting directors need to take accountability for the part they play, and continue to play, in colorism. Representation matters and will ultimately help end internalized colorism, which fosters due to the lack of dark-skin representation in popular media.
Art credits: Reyna Noriega, @reynanoriega_ on Instagram