Three years ago, my niece and I had a conversation that would ignite an entire journey – one that we are still on today.
At the age of three, she had expressed to me the sentiment that because her skin tone was darker, this would keep her from being considered beautiful. In her child’s mind, she had already made the connection that in this world even her skin tone would matter – especially as a girl.
This issue of skin tone, of certain shades being considered "better" than others, was never missing from conversation while growing up. Yet unlike my niece, I did not have the words for it - we were able to feel its presence in dialogue amongst family and friends, but we did not have a name to call it, and so in many ways, it became easier for me to ignore, to suppress, to normalize.
But hearing these words escape out niece’s mouth moved me in such a deeply personal way that I couldn’t run away any longer from the reality of how much it was affecting and clearly hurting so many women I loved. Maybe we couldn’t change the minds of our elders and the messages of the mainstream dialogue, but we could begin to challenge, and hopefully shift our set of “ideals” for the next generation.
In response to my niece's sharings, a team of incredible classmates and I moved forward on creating a short documentary (http://vimeo.com/16210769), which aimed to take an introductory look at this issue. Through our research, we found a name for this: shadeism. This word shadeism (also known as colorism) describes the discrimination based on skin tone, which exists amongst members of the same community, creating a ranking of a person’s individual worth based on shade.
In partnership with a few close friends, our incredible team, and our families and communities, we completed the short. In November 2010, a few months following the completion of the doc, we decided to share Shadeism online. As time passed views increased by the thousands, and messages came in by the hundreds. I spent many moments crying, reading the open and honest messages we received about different folks messages of thanks, their reactions and feelings towards the short, and their own personal accounts of shadeism. It was overwhelming and beautiful and a sign of some sense of collective growth, which is what we had hoped for all along. And since then, the support has continued to remain unimagineable, with men and women from across the globe reaching out to share how much the film has meant to them.
Why are we keeping it moving with this film?
For too many of us, this issue had been silenced for too long. The film became a medium to engage in dialogue, to finally share what so many had been holding inside. Never were we taught a more real lesson about the power of storytelling and sharing those stories. In hearing the stories of a few courageous women, people felt open to finally sharing their stories and beginning a process of acknowledgement and healing.
If the short alone was able to have that much of an impact, we can only imagine what a longer film will do and mean for us all. We know that through an extended feature documentary, we will be able to dig deeper, to really explore a multitude of stories, of experiences, of feelings, of thoughts on how to engage in healing and move forward.
Through this feature, we hope to continue examine and address the roots, realities, and effects of this issue on young women from diverse backgrounds, by faciltating dialogue and discussion that will be shared through the film. We will continue to tackle this issue from an honest and deeply personal perspective, sharing private experiences with the issue, and documenting how it affects so many different people.
Why support us?
In many ways, this film is not just an exploration, it's an act of resistance: we are resisting the notions that have hurt us, and finding ways to build and sustain renewed ideas, which focus on loving ourselves. Women the world over are saturated with images and ideas of why they are wrong - the wrong body shape, the wrong hair texture, the wrong facial features, the wrong colour, the wrong shade. We're tired of this, we're tired of feeling wrong.
In supporting "Shadeism", you'll be supporting a film by young women, about young women, which speaks to our stories through our own voices. You will be supporting a collective narrative, which has already meant so much to so many, and that can only continue to serve people in finding new ways of being brave, of sharing stories, of learning to love ourselves, and of continuing a process of healing, both personal and collective.