In America, lightness is often associated as being pure, gentle, and soft, but darkness is associated with fear, evil, and negativity. An example of this would be how in movies and television, the hero usually wears white and the villain often wears dark or black clothing. This mindset is prevalent in Western media, such as television, film, and music. Colorism plays a large role in media and it leads to people who are of darker skin tones having a harder time to become successful in media. Colorism even effects dark skin people in Black media, they either have limited representation or they are not represented at all. An example of this mindset is present in the beloved 90’s sitcom, Martin. In Martin, the titular character’s girlfriend, Gina, has light skin, portrayed as beautiful, nice, and smart. Gina’s best friend, Pam, who is of a darker complexion, is portrayed as loud, obnoxious, and belligerent. In media, Black people who are of a darker skin complexion are not represented fairly and an example of this is in the shows Black-ish and Grown-ish.
Colorism is the prejudice or discrimination against individuals with dark skin tones, typically among people of the same ethnic or racial group. Colorism is extremely prevalent in Western society and there has been backlash both in and out of the black community. Inside the Black community, there is dark skin vs. light skin “wars.” Lighter skinned people often receive better treatment and representation than darker skinned people. Black people in media often adhere and have to conform to Eurocentric beauty standards to be able to work in media. Lighter skinned actors and actresses such as Will Smith, Rashida Jones, Jesse Williams, and Halle Berry, often find more work because they fit Eurocentric beauty standards. Darker skinned actors such as Gabourey Sidibe, Gabrielle Union and Don Cheadle, often do not get as much work or if they do get a role, they play stereotypical and offensive roles.
In recent years, there has been an increase of dark skin Black people having leading roles in media. The 2018 blockbuster, Black Panther, had a cast of mostly dark skin Black people. Viola Davis, who is a dark skin actress, plays the leading role on the hit show How to Get Away with Murder. These couple of examples are far and few between. For the most part, when a Black person is given a lead role in television or film, they usually pass the brown paper bag test. The brown paper bag test was a test that was practiced in the African American community during the Civil Rights era that compared an individual’s skin tone to a brown paper bag. If a person’s skin was the color of the bag or lighter, they were permitted access to clubs, churches, or fraternities, and if a person’s skin was darker than the bag, they were restricted from coming in. Black people who are not slim, light-skinned, and do not fit Eurocentric beauty standards, often face a harder time with accessing roles in television and film. Popular dark skin Black actors in media, like Lupita Nyong’o, often have “traditional” facial features such as smaller noses and thinner lips. If they do not fit these standards, then they may not get a role.
Two popular shows that address many issues in the black community is Black-ish and Grown-ish. Black-ish stars Anthony Anderson, who is a light skinned man, and Tracee Ellis Ross, who is mixed race, as Andre and Rainbow Johnson. The show is praised for its discussion of sensitive subjects that African American people often face. The show’s main cast is all lighter skinned Black people and the darkest person in the main cast is they youngest daughter Diane, who is played by Marsai Martin. Martin is of a medium brown skin complexion and is the only person of that color on the main cast. Black-ish always covers topics that Black people have to face living in America, but it has yet to discuss colorism and how it affects the African American community.
On the rare occasion that darker skinned Black actors appear on the show, they often play questionable or stereotypical roles. An example of this would be when Regina Hall, who is of a darker complexion, made a guest appearance. Hall played the family’s maid and nanny and is often referred to as “Black Nanny” by the main cast mockingly. Another example of this would be when Faizon Love, who is of a very dark complexion made an appearance as Anthony Anderson’s childhood friend, Sha. Love’s character was depicted as being very lazy, having bad hygiene, and terrible manners. In a show that praises itself on its representation of Black issues, the portrayal of darker skinned Black people is problematic.
In the show’s spin off Grown-ish, the Johnson family’s eldest daughter, Zoey, played by Yara Shahidi, goes to college. When the show’s cast was announced, it faced almost immediate backlash for the lack of dark skin people in it. The show praised itself on its diversity, having Indian, Jewish, bisexual and Latino characters. There was one thing that the show’s cast did not have, and that was a person that was darker than a brown paper bag. The biggest offense that the show had was the episode,”It’s Hard out Here for a Pimp.” In the episode, the characters discussed dating in college. In the episode, the characters Jaz and Sky, who are played by sisters Chloe and Halle Bailey, calls out the various men of color on campus for being only attracted to lighter skinned skin girls that fit Eurocentric beauty standards. This would have been very progressive and informational, but the characters that led the discussion were as light as the people they were calling out. This led to many people side eyeing the show and taking the shows message with a grain of salt.
The problem of dark skin people not being represented in media has become a widely discussed topic. Even though there have been many discussions, little to nothing has been done to confront the issue. Dark skin people still have limited to no access to roles. The problem can be easily helped by casting people of darker complexions in television and film, but this issue is rooted in colorism and racism. There has been advancements in the issue with more and more dark skin people getting major roles in film and television but there is still more to be done for equal representation.