Bill Duke (left) and Los Angeles NBC4’s Beverly White (right) discussed Duke’s book. (courtesy photo)
“There is a beauty business that says God made a mistake. We’re going to sell you cosmetics, hair products, extensions, and we’re going to sell you skin bleach. With these products, we are going to build a global business and we are going to tell you Black woman how you ought to look,” says Bill Duke, director of the 2011 documentary Dark Girls and its 2014 sequel, Light Girls. Such was the beginning of a community conversation held on Sunday, May 24th at the Los Angeles Central Library in the Mark Taper Auditorium with Beverly White of NBC-4 as moderator and actor, writer, director Bill Duke explaining to a rapt audience the not-so-secret marketing machine behind the billion dollar beauty industry.
Duke’s comments were the continuation of a conversation that he believes is not only necessary but also long overdue.
This conversation began with his documentary – Dark Girls, where Duke addressed the effects of colorism experienced by dark-skinned women within the African American community.
Colorism – a termed coined in 1982 by noted author Alice Walker is the practice of discrimination in which persons are treated differently based solely upon the social values associated with their skin color. Real talk – the lighter skinned Black person is deemed to have a higher social value than the darker skinned Black person.
Duke, a man known for his imposing height (he’s 6’4) as well as his darker hue, can more than relate. As a child, he thought he was ugly and tried to bleach his skin because he didn’t want to be dark.
“I made Dark Girls because I wanted to give voice to the voiceless,” he said.
According to Duke the documentary was “for the two high school girls who were not asked to their prom simply because they were a few shades too dark.”
The “irony of this sad situation is that White women spend time and money getting tans, butt lifts and Botox to look more ethnic” while infighting persist among dark and light Black women. “I want us to stop drinking the Kool-Aid about what society says is beautiful,” and to believe that “real beauty has nothing to do with skin color,” he said.
“Racism within our community is damaging and we don’t like to talk about difficult subjects because of the pain,” Duke said.
But talk was definitely on the agenda on Sunday as members of the community showed up to share their experiences and much to his chagrin to pitch their documentary/film ideas to the award-winning director.
When asked if he had received any backlash for highlighting such a sensitive topic, Duke related the story of a woman he met in Harlem who questioned why he would “choose to air our dirty laundry?”
His response – “because it’s stinking up the house.” Duke asserts that he has Black male friends who seek out a light woman just because she is light. He’s also heard them say “I want one of those,” meaning a light-skinned woman because they see her as a trophy or prize. Then there is the well-known rapper who when casting his video, put out the word that “no dark skin women need apply.”
There is a distinct different between preference and ignorance, Duke said.
Duke, a father to a light-skinned daughter and brother to a darker-hued sister is serious about what he calls “edutainment,” entertaining people and engaging them in serious, thought provoking conversations.
A gracious man, Duke kindly accepted accolades from the audience for his acting work in Car Wash and Menance II Society as well as his directorial successes for Hoodlum, cult favorite Deep Cover and Sister Act 2.
But he insists that his passion, his focus this day was strictly on the topic at hand – erasing racial stratification.
“I want us to be bothered when magazines lighten the skin tones of Beyoncé, and actress Lupita Nyong’o in an effort to affirm that you are beautiful only if your skin tone is light.”
Colorism – Duke says is not just an American issue but a global phenomenon. “I was surprised to learn that skin bleach is the #1 selling product in Ghana and by the year 2018, skin bleaching will be a 20 billion dollar global business.”
In his 2014 documentary, Light Girls, Duke sought to strike down the belief that lighter skinned Black women are free of problems or issues.
“Pain has no color, but ignorance is applicable to everyone, Duke said. The surface part of this conversation is race but the core of this issue is self-esteem, how we see ourselves,” he said. “Until we heal as a people by resolving the conflicts of our culture, we have no strength, focus, energy or ability to fight the forces that are externally killing us.”
When asked if the healing has begun Duke says he would like to say yes but he does believe that there is a growing consciousness.
That’s one of the reasons he decided to turn Dark Girls into a book. Duke says that he wanted a book for young, dark-skinned girls to provide them with a “tool of defense against anyone who would say they were ugly based upon the darkness of their skin.” In Dark Girls – the book, you have “dark-skinned, successful women who were not limited by the ignorance of comments” based on the shade of their skin.”
Duke hopes that the Black community will continue to have these hard conversations. “We must heal for the sake of our children. By healing the internal issues that we have about color, we can heal as a people so that our children don’t have to suffer through the same agony and pain.” With the future of Black children on his mind, Duke ended the conversation by sharing with the audience three of his favorite quotes: “True power is an individual’s ability to move from failure to failure with no loss in enthusiasm – Winston Churchill.” “Aspire to inspire before you expire,” and his favorite, “In your lifetime, you’ll never see a smaller package than a person wrapped up in themselves,” both from Anonymous.
Dark Girls – the book is available online and in local bookstores. The documentaries – Dark Girls and Light Girls can be seen on the OWN Network.