Colorism in Hollywood and Our Homes
By now you've probably seen the exchange between Afro Latina singer, Amara La Negra and producer, Young Hollywood from Love & Hip Hop Miami. It was uncomfortable to say the least. After being questioned about her image and being told she needs to change her appearance the conversation ended with Amara storming out of the studio. I don’t know much about the music industry, but I can’t say that there are many Afro Latinas like Amara La Negra out there. I can’t even name one. Honestly, how can there be when the entertainment industry rejects Afro Latinas? I can’t even begin to imagine how I would have handled that situation where there is an implied power dynamic that puts Amara La Negra in a lesser position. Add the afro and "nutella queen" comments and the power imbalance only grows.
I am inclined to blame the music industry for its lack of initiatives to include diverse musicians. In the film and television world, Hollywood has very few diverse actors on screen. For anyone who likes numbers: Black characters had only 13% of Hollywood’s speaking roles in 2016, Asian characters had 5%, and Latino characters had 3%. Yet, these minority populations make up the most in box office sales. It is no wonder why box office sales were record high when films like Get Out and Hidden Figures were released – the audiences that make up most sales were finally getting films made about them.
The colorism problem within Latino communities is very real. I can recall times in my childhood when I would overhear my mother commenting on me and my sibling’s skin when were playing outside. We were warned to not be out in the sun or else our skin would get darker. It was as though being dark was a bad thing. When I would return to school in the fall, I would feel a wave of self-consciousness over me as I became more and more aware of my dark skin. Can I honestly blame my mother? Look at the faces on TV! I grew up trying to assimilate to American culture, listening to Britney Spears and watching Mary-Kate and Ashley movies. I was well aware that these entertainers were worlds different than me and shades lighter than me. I was well aware that people like me were not meant for the public eye. Not even the characters in the novelas were dark-skinned. They all had Eurocentric features, making a point that only these lighter faces with european features were allowed on TV.
I recently had a conversation with a director. She shared how she had trouble finding Latina actors, and those that she did find were light-skinned. I wanted to defend the dark-skinned Latinas. Can you blame us for not wanting to pursue a career where jobs are lacking? Where does a dark-skinned Latina summon the confidence to pursue acting for film or television when she grew up seeing very few people on screen who looked like her? Dark-skinned Latinas are too busy reconstructing their self-worth to go into an industry that will reject her for the way she looks. It doesn’t help when we see women like Amara La Negra going after their dreams only to be told their appearance is unacceptable.
Colorism is a problem within our own communities. We shouldn't be shaming the youth for their dark skin and shame on us for not trying to encourage them to go out and challenge the entertainment industry and Hollywood. When we grow up among family and culture that perpetuates colorism within the community and see this reinforced in the media we enjoy, it’s difficult to believe we can become one of those beautiful entertainers. Representation matters, but so does awareness within our own families and communities.