Seeing the film title Dark Girls alone made me skeptical. Great, another film about black people feeling sorry for themselves. Should I bother to watch? I eventually convinced myself that as a blogger and black feminist it was my responsibility to see the film. So I set up the DVR and occasionally checked Twitter and Facebook to see how much buzz it was getting.
After having seen the film, I wish I could have my two hours back. It is good to have documentaries that are critical and honest about contemporary issues black people face. But it is retrogressive to talk about a problem in a way that makes it seem worse than it actually is. Dark Girls was a strong example of the latter.
In an odd way, Dark Girls compliments CNN’s Black in America Five—a film that explores black consciousness for young girls of color that are lighter skinned and/or mixed. But it ironically has the same shortcoming—offering a shallow, one-dimensional analysis of colorism in modern times. Also problematic was that at times it puts darker-skinned women on a pedestal, contributing to the ill-informed belief that one kind of skin color is better than another to offset the burden of blackness.
At the outset I wondered if the film was only frustrating for me and not necessarily for others because I majored in black studies in college. A lot of the historical information they offered was certainly related to the origins of colorism but seemed fairly obvious. The statistics incorporated into the film didn’t add to the conversation either. Dramatic figures depicting young girls’ struggles with self image and black women’s lower chances at marriage look sexy on the small screen when talking about feminist issues. But when Bill Duke decided to throw in the fact that “7 in 10 girls between the ages of 8-17 feel that they are not good enough or do not measure up in their appearances” did he check to see just how many of those girls were actually black?
Furthermore, just because “41.9 percent of black women in America have never been married while only 20.7 percent of white women have never been married” how exactly are we supposed to know that the disparity is caused by stigmas around skin color? Couldn’t it have something to do with the fact that there is a significant population of black women that have higher levels of education and economic status than black men, making their search for a husband a little more complicated than others? Or the fact that marriage itself has historically been an institution that many black people have surpassed for less official (but just as valid) forms of companionship and family structures? By throwing in that statistic, how are you supposed to account for the (darker-skinned) black women that have had perfectly happy, fulfilling lives as single females, girlfriends, wives, mothers, professionals, what-have-you that are aware of the stigmas against dark girls but never became bogged down by it?
I’m not saying that colorism isn’t real. I’m not saying that (black) women and young girls don’t have insecurities. Clearly all of the people featured in the film are real and felt moved enough to speak about to the great extent that they did in the documentary. And it certainly is real to me: as a child I faintly desired to have fairer skin like my younger sister. She was lighter skinned and occasionally others would bully me by saying I was the uglier sister.
However there must be something wrong if I as the viewer can grasp all of the various viewpoints presented in the film within the first 35 minutes, as opposed to the whole 120. It would have been nice to see someone express a perspective that wasn’t quite as bleak as everyone else’s to shake up the discussion.
Since adolescence I have heard white and lighter—skinned black girlfriends alike playfully tell me I was more attractive than they were. Regardless of whether or not I agreed with them or even cared about who was supposedly more attractive among our group of friends, the dichotomy of the pretty light skinned girl vs. the ugly dark skinned girl quickly became stupid, irrelevant and completely fallacious when I was still a young girl. On top of that, I grew up with style icons and sex symbols like Kelly Rowland, Naomi Campbell, Kerry Washington, Gabrielle Union, Sanaa Lathan and Regina King that all showed my girlfriends and I that brown skinned women were just as desirable as the Beyonces and Mariah Careys of the world. I recognize that my own privileges shape my viewpoint but I can’t possibly be the only black woman that has it.
Maybe I’m just irritated that I didn’t get asked for an interview. But I’m sure you would get irritated too if you were watching a film featuring people drone about a topic that genuinely interests you in a way that fuels the stigmas, burdens and ignorant ideas that already accompany it.