The colorism Dido experiences is seen throughout different Western societies that had Black African enslavement as part of its world. Many stories of colorism also exist in American history and folklore and we see how it impacts romantic relationships and in American film and TV.
Directors Amma Asante and Gina Prince-Bythewood illustrate that when a story is told through the eyes of the second sex, themes, such as romance, self-worth, and identity are fully fleshed out. By examining an 18th century British aristocrat and a 21st century pop superstar, it proves that in the span of three centuries, women still face adversity in establishing a firm identity, apart from the façade, amongst the white noise of societal expectations.
It is appropriate, when celebrating the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., to recall Dr. King’s words to Nichelle Nichols, as she considered quitting ‘Star Trek’ in frustration at the limitations of her role: “You can’t leave!… For the first time on television, we are being seen as we should be seen every day. As intelligent, quality, beautiful people … who can go into space.” Dr. King’s words show that he clearly understood the value of a token image, as a symbol, a precedent and a possibility model for future progress.
Gina Price-Bythewood: “It’s a love story first, but for me as a filmmaker, I never just want to make a movie that entertains. It should entertain first, but I think it should say something and this was an issue that was important to me, the way woman are objectified. The way that women don’t have a voice. As an artist I was able to put that into the film as well as someone who has something to say and sometimes it’s a struggle to get the chance, to just inspire women, also men, to have their own voice.”
I thought of Beyoncé often while watching writer-director Gina Prince-Bythewood’s (‘Love and Basketball’) new film ‘Beyond The Lights.’ The main character, pop star Noni (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is supposed to remind us of Beyoncé, as well as Rihanna, with bits of Nicki Minaj, Lauren Hill, Britney Spears, and Lindsay Lohan thrown in. In early scenes we see her in elaborate videos wearing hardly any clothes, her skimpy outfits often incorporating glittering chains. She has first blonde, then purple, long flowing hair.
People of color are often omitted from historical dramas (except to play slaves or servants), with the rationale that it’s not “realistic” to have them in the cast. We can see through this excuse in historical dramas in which casting people of color would match the story being told, but white people still have the biggest roles in–and sometimes even make up the entire cast of–the film, as in the recently released ‘Noah.’ Historical “realism” is not always what we think it is: literature and visual art through the ages confirm that people of color who weren’t slaves, like Alexandre Dumas the author of ‘The Three Musketeers,’ have been in Europe for as long as people have lived there. We need to see more of their stories onscreen.