Colourism in Nollywood: How an industry propagates culture of self-hatred for dark-skinned girls

Oluwabusola Fadipe June 18, 2019
Scene from "The Wedding Party"

In the last decade, I have seen Nollywood Nigerian movies pay attention to style more ever than before. Female actors in particular rock the latest trends in fashion, adorned in name brand stilettos even for scenes that do not necessarily require them, in top-notch facial makeover and hair styled in long Brazilian weaves.

For critical viewers like me, it is not hard to conclude that the Nigerian movie industry is paying more attention to details. However, it is also disturbing to notice the prevalence of colourism and false standards of beauty in Nollywood.

In Nigeria in general, light-skinned women are aggrandized, paid more attention and given more privileges. This could be as a result of the narrow societal definition of beauty. It is not very far-fetched as the faces in marketing, media and modeling are usually the fair skinned and slim ladies.

As a matter of fact, there is a preference for fair ladies in recruitment for roles such as front desk officer, air hostess and hospitality management. The movie industry is not excluded as light-skinned actresses seem to be at an advantage compared to their dark complexioned counterparts.

Colourism according to Oxford Dictionary means “prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone, typically among people of the same ethnic or racial group.” A deep dive into the evolution of colourism in Africa shows a link with racism, an offshoot of colonialism.

Alice Walker, a novelist had once explored how colonial slave masters created a social stratum by showing preference for light-skinned slaves as they were allowed to work in the house while the dark-skinned slaves worked in fields. Unconsciously, our society has internalized this false notion of light-skinned persons being better than dark-skinned persons.

This thought is deeply amplified in Nollywood. For a fact, fair girls seem to get more casting roles than dark-skinned girls. The flipside to this is where both shades of skin tone are casted but dark skinned girls seem to get the less desirable or passive roles in movies. It is a known fact success in showbiz is not totally dependent on talent, the look must be complementary. As a result, a lot of actresses overtime see the need to tone their skin, improve their looks through cosmetic surgery to get more lead roles and also conform to the required image as they climb the ladder of success.

The impacts of colourism are rife. First, it is an act of discrimination fuelling the assumption that light-skinned people are better and as such deserve better opportunities particularly in the movie industry.

Second, it underestimates the place of talent and merit where people are considered merely because of their skin colour and not their ability or adaptability to the role in question.

Most importantly, it places undue pressure on aspiring dark-skinned actresses or sometimes crush their careers and prospects in the industry before time.

Mercy Johnson, a popular award winning Nollywood actress mentioned to Punch how difficult it was to get roles in her early days as an actress. In the same light, Keira Hewatch staring as Peace in the popular Nigerian series, ‘Lekki Housewives’ in an exclusive interview with Pulse Nigeria mentioned how she had lost movie roles on account of her dark complexion.

In addition, celebrities wield great influence in all ramification especially fashion and lifestyle. This level of impact is more pronounced for young people who shape their lives after the celebrities they adore. As a result, there is a remarkable tendency for young girls to validate their sense of beauty using metrics such as skin colour and general physical appearance.

Conclusively, it is not enough to start a viral campaign for dark and natural beauty using the popular #MelaninPopping without creating awareness for a fair and equitable system where casting considerations and any job at all are made solely on the basis of expertise.

For this to happen, we might need to start reviewing why ladies on popular adverts are predominantly tall, slim and light-skinned and not the everyday Nigerian girl because in truth, colourism thrives on the assumption that people prefer ladies with lighter skin.

Last Edited by:Victor Ativie Updated: June 9, 2020


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