In the 1940s, psychologists published studies in which black children were given a white doll and a black doll. They were asked which one was pretty and good. Each time they picked the white doll. When asked which one was ugly and bad, they picked the black doll. CNN conducted a similar study decades later, and the results were very much the same. In the black community, colorism is very much a part of our culture. Dark Girls explores this on a deeper level, not just within the black community, but outside of it. The TV premiere aired last night on OWN, giving this cultural and social issue a broad platform.
There are numerous layers to the issue of colorism, defined as “a form of oppression that is demonstrated through the differential treatment of individual groups based on skin color.” This is often manifested by preferential treatment to lighter-skinned individuals and rejection of darker-skinned individuals. Through personal stories and experiences – including one by Alfrie Woodard – the impact of it is made tangible, even to those who haven’t had that experience. The documentary breaks down the topic into separate focuses: impact, family, men on women, women on men and global.
What was most striking were stories of how parents and other African-Americans reinforced colorism and the insecurity that reinforced, particularly when it comes to men on women. In an age where light-skinned men with light eye hues tweet vapid quotes about treating girls right for retweets and hits, this made for an interesting dialogue. Many black men interviewed said it was simply a matter of preference: some want a woman who looks like them and they want dark babies who look like them. For others, they say they just prefer light-skinned women. For white men, the natural features of black women were celebrated and embraced. But for one subject of the doc she wants to marry black man in her heart, although dating white men is “effortless” for her. She worries that the black men who do desire dark women all in prison because of their personal struggles.
The documentary’s intent is to create a conversation about colorism that will bring active change. During the film, the dialogue was encouraged on social media by #DarkGirls. There are pessimists who insist that while the documentary is well-intended, it won’t change the images predominant in media and our culture. I’d rather be hopeful and see the vignettes of Dark Girls subjects as a point of understanding to move beyond colorism, a message the documentary encourages.
Dark Girls will be available on DVD Sept. 24th, 2013. You can watch a preview of the doc below: