By Vania Andre
BROOKLYN, NY — Colorism is not a new phenomenon to the African Diaspora and other people of color. Defined as prejudice or discrimination against individuals of darker complexions within the same ethnic group, colorism has persisted throughout Black and Latin American communities for decades.
Haitian-American photographer and film director Francesca Andre tackles the taboo topic in her short film Charcoal. The film captures the stories of two women as they embark on a lifelong journey to overcome internalized colorism, find self-acceptance and ultimately redemption.
“To many, colorism is a social disease that exists not just among black communities, but in many parts of Asia and Latin America,” said Andre. “Discussions on race, class and gender have become more common, but the conversation on the destructive, generational cycle of colorism is lacking.“
The film follows the journey of two women from childhood to adulthood as they overcome the pain that comes from the “trauma” of internalized self-hate. The narrative begins from the perspective of a child who is told not to play in the sun so that she doesn’t become “too dark.” It then evolves to the perspective of a teenager who is told she’s pretty for a dark girl and eventually turns to bleaching to lighten her complexion. The film then morphs to the vantage point of a woman in adulthood who is expecting her first child. She is filled with anxiety at the prospect of her child being dark.
“We were programmed to believe we are not beautiful because we’re black,” Francesca said. This film is about “overcoming pain and telling other women to be fierce, to be charcoal.”
For Andre, the film is more than just exploring colorism and its impact on women. It’s “more internalized” and deals not only with skin color, but also hair type.
“It’s all relatable,” she said. “You can’t be black and not talk about colorism and hair. It took me moving to Brooklyn to see women being unapologetic about their hair that inspired me to feel confident about my own natural hair.
Haiti, like many Caribbean and Latin American countries, has a deep-rooted colorist society where those in power do not look like the majority of the people that make up the country. The class divide in Haiti is obvious and goes back to the country’s colonial and imperial beginnings.
“When we watch music videos, the lead girl is often mixed or fair skinned. It shows a lack of representation here and in Haiti,” Andre said. “We have a long way to go and I believe it’s the job of artists to change that perception; to make sure that their work is a fair representation of Haiti and its people.”
Colorism is like a “disease” and sort of “trauma” that is passed down from generation to generation, she said.
“The beautiful thing is that Black women are healing,” Andre said about the growing social media movements like #BlackGirlMagic and #MelaninPoppin.
“We need to see progress for what it is and show that we’re breaking the cycle.”
Charcoal will be shown at the Slum Film Festival in Kenya from Oct. 1 to Oct. 27, the Yonkers Film Festival from Nov. 3 to Nov. 8 and at the Reel Sisters of the Diaspora Film Festival on Oct. 21, where the film is receiving an award for Best Short narrative.