By Nicole Emanuel
The History Behind Colorism in the Black Entertainment Industry
Have you ever noticed there has a narrow measure of dark-skinned female celebrities throughout history? Have you ever wondered why that is? Looking back over time, many famous black women in history have one thing in common; they’re light-skinned. From Lolo Jones, to Nicki Minaj, to Rihanna, and Beyoncé; just to name a few. They are all very successful female celebrities, but we live in a commonality where mass media sells us that beauty is in being white; so, the lighter the skin tone the better.
While it’s no longer acceptable to reject a person because of race, colorism is one of the foundations in which fame is given. Being black is not wrong, it’s just not necessarily attractive and desirable according to the industry. Take, for example, when Thandie Newton was cast as Olanna, who was a “voluptuous, brown skinned and beautiful Igbo heroine of the film adaption of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novel Half of a Yellow Sun, there was a furore.” Newton, a light-skinned British dual-heritage actress cast to portray an Igbo heroin, isn’t quite the lateral in character. But because of Newton’s light skin tone, she was an acceptable fit. The Igbo culture originates from southeastern Nigeria, where the people are dark skinned, one would classify the tone as, “burnt.” So, in the industry standards, Newton gets the job.
“It’s clear that the effects of colourism run deep in our society.” The industry has pushed some beautiful black women to some extreme transformations to fit inside the box of being acceptable. It’s surprising to know that whitening creams continue to sell in the US, Asia and…wait for it, Africa. Some women in Arizona, California and Texas have suffered mercury poisoning after they turned to using whitening creams to bleach their skin. This proves that the legacy of colourism is and may always be an ongoing issue.
Regrettably, some celebrities have even admitted to using whitening creams. This speaks volumes to the type of pressures female entertainers experience. There is no other way to justify the desire for lighter skin tones in black women, other than its far more acceptable than being dark skinned. Some celebrities have not been extremely forthcoming about the use of whitening creams, but there are others who fully endorse the process and support it, such as Dencia. She is a Nigerian pop star who even launched her own whitening cream called, “Whitenicious.” Vera Sidika is a Kenyan model and she gained more fame when she announced her skin whitening method. Beauty is being measured by what’s on the surface, where the standards have changed over time throughout history.
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