So much promise, yet so many BLATANT pitfalls… here is my honest review on the much anticipated Light Girls documentary.
Now if you have been a follower of my blog, my Instagram… or any other form of social media, you will know that I have been dying to watch the Light Girls documentary. The documentary promised to give a light skinned perspective on shadeism after the Dark Girls documentary shared a dark skinned view. I welcomed this prospect with open arms as I felt – and still feel – that the issue of colorism from both perspectives is such a key topic that needs to be discussed in order for us to move forward together; so much so in fact, that I began a project that invited people of all shades to share their experiences of colorism and shadeism in the run up to the documentary’s release on the 19th. I eagerly waited for the documentary to finally become available in the UK, cancelled all my plans, sat down to watch it only to feel… let down. Let me explain…
The Dark Girls documentary had encouraged a much needed dialogue within the black community about the issue of shadeism. It highlighted how preposterous it is that in this day and age, centuries after slavery, darker people are still seen as inferior, even within the greater black community. The documentary was heartfelt and sensitively done; so much so that it was impossible to come away without acknowledging the fact that women, men and children of darker skin tones are discriminated against within society.
As a mixed race woman living in the UK, I’d never suggest that I fully understood the African-American female experience. I wrote my dissertation on ‘The Traumatised Black Female;’ studying the treatment of black women in American society as well as how they are represented in the media. Having read bell hook’s ‘Ain’t I A Woman’ religiously, I was aware that to some, the black woman is seen as being at the absolute bottom of American society. Therefore, to suggest that I somehow shared the same experiences as a dark skinned woman in America would simply be ignorant.
However, though I would never say that my experience was exactly the same, I can empathise. Watching Dark Girls, I was reminded of my own feelings of not belonging, longing to be lighter when I was a child and experiences of racism when growing up. I longed to engage within the conversation about shadeism, however it felt to me that if I shared my own experiences of shadeism around the time of the release of Dark Girls, it would seem… tasteless. To truly empathise with another human being, you must first try to share their experience; imagine how they felt when they went through adversity before chiming in on how similar issues affected you.
As powerful as Dark Girls was, the same issues remained after its release. The Dark Skin vs Light Skin ‘debate’ was still all over social media (especially twitter and instagram). Rather than magically uniting the black community, it seemed like some people simply did not want to get rid of their ignorance, instead choosing to continue to create divisions due to the shade of our skin. So what was the solution? At some point, the other side of the story needed to be heard. At some point all members of the black community needed to be represented and have their feelings shared. Thus leading to…
Social media was buzzing. On the lead up to Selma being released in cinemas, ‘Light Girls’ – a sequel to ‘Dark Girls’ – was to be released on Oprah’s channel, OWN. ‘Finally!’ I thought. Once the issue of colorism was open to both sides, conversations about how colorism effects ALL of us could finally be brought to the table. Ultimately, we could come together and see that this issue effects all of us and as a community we must make the decision to stop perpetuating these negatives stereotypes that divide us, and instead unite together.
But that was a dream, which of course leads me to the first of two main issues I had with the documentary:
1. It offered a platform for lighter women to complain about their experiences without ever really coming together with ‘Dark Girls’ and seeing that we are all affected by colorism.
Now, do not get me wrong. The message was powerful; we light skinned women have suffered, too! There were countless stories about bullying and emotional, physical and even sexual abuse. Without a doubt, highlighting that light skinned women also suffered throughout slavery and Jim Crow was also a much needed discussion piece. The documentary also drew attention to what a lot of biracial – or ‘mulatto’ – women experience; a struggle to find their identity. And through that, of course, there is the issue of trying to over compensate, by either trying to ‘prove their blackness’ or pass for white.
However, after half an hour of women sharing their heart-breaking stories on shadeism, the documentary seemed to lose its way. Instead of making a link to Dark Girls, or taking the time to highlight that colorism effects both sides of the black community, the documentary suddenly took a more global stance. Shadeism effects people all around the world, thus the documentary also highlighted the shadeist caste system in India, as well as the skin bleach sold by the gallon across Asia and Africa. As important as it is to discuss how colonialism across the world has moulded the global view that lighter means more beautiful, this section seemed to completely digress from the rest of the documentary. It came across as if the producers had run out of material from the light women themselves, and instead tried to plug in these issues to make up time.
2. Massive, painfully obvious contradictions throughout.
More annoying was the second major issue of constant contradictions. The whole documentary should have been about getting people to see how awful colorism is, but also how our shared experience of it should bring us together. This inclusiveness was completely undermined by Iyanla Vanzant constantly using words like ‘clism’ or repeatedly saying ‘cellular’ in a strained voice as if any of us were supposed to know what on Earth she was talking about. Furthermore, we then had Dr Gabriel Crenshaw giving us a needlessly complicated lesson on the structure of the human brain. How on earth are people supposed to come together and unify with the message that ‘colorism is bad’ when the language excluded people, and often made it difficult to follow?
More irritating was the comments by some of the people being interviewed. The subject of colorism and the abuse it leads to is obviously going to be a serious subject. However, the addition of Hope Flood and James ‘Talent’ Harris failed to add any comic relief. Instead I was left to feel uncomfortable by Hope suggesting that whenever she went out with her dark skinned girlfriends she would be first pick by the men because of her light skin. Plus, saying that every man ‘wants a light skin woman on their team’ hardly fit with the rest of the documentary either.
Even worse were the comments by Talent, who suggested the reason he liked darker women was because lighter women are more stuck up and ‘wouldn’t buy you popcorn in the cinema.’ Seriously? After the majority of the documentary had light skinned women explaining that they didn’t feel they were better than anyone else, how was that comment helpful? Other men also explained how they saw light women as trophies and that if a woman was dark she would have to compensate through some other physical features. At that point the documentary crumbled for me.
Why you should watch Light Girls
As frustrating as half of the documentary is, it is important for us all to empathise with each other’s stories. The light skin/ dark skin divide has gone on for too long, and no one is effected worse than our children. As a teacher, I regularly hear students making comments like ‘thats such a light skin thing to do’… These stereotypes do nothing but continue to divide us. We all have scars, whether it be from colonialism or slavery, but it is our duty in the 21st century to acknowledge the ignorance around us and put a stop to it. Dark Girls and Light Girls both share the experiences of women that have experienced colorism, therefore sharing it with our children may work as a warning that continuing to support the divisions within our communities hurts both sides.
But what is more important is that we talk. Light skinned or dark skinned, white or black, we are all human and need to respect each other accordingly. Rather than waiting for them to come out with a documentary simply called ‘Girls,’ we need to bridge the gaps between us and heal ourselves. We must look back at our suffering and learn and move forward from it.
Oh.. and never allow Hope Flood to contribute to a serious documentary again. Like, seriously.
With love, from London