As an adult, I haven’t often thought of my dark brown skin in any particular way. I’ve praised its lack of blemishes and that fact that it has allowed me to bake in the unforgiving sun without a worry or care. There have been comments of admiration and disgust thrown my way here and there — one from a small girl I was babysitting who told me she couldn’t go outside for fear of getting any darker. There was another, the day before a friend’s wedding from an older Black woman who told me to put foundation on my knees for the ceremony — apparently; they were too dark for photographs.
I am thankful now that the negative thoughts and insecurities that tormented me during my childhood no longer have a place in my life, and I also realize how very rare that is. With her award-short film, Charcoal, Haitian-American filmmaker and photographer, Francesca Andre presents the story of two Black women deeply wounded by the perils of colorism within the Black community. It’s a film that shows how self-hatred is taught.
Though the topic of colorism is not new and has been explored in documentaries like Bill Duke and D. Channsin Berry’s Dark Girls and its companion film, Duke’s Light Girls, Andre’s work does something different. Charcoal hones in on the destructive generational cycle of colorism, from the perspective of a child, a teenager, and a mother. The film follows the women as they seek self-acceptance and redemption.
Traumas like colorism that stem from colonization stretch well beyond the Black American community and seep into many countries across the globe. Though times are changing, melanin positive hashtags have popped up on social media, and women have begun redefining what beauty standards are — there is still a long way to go. Charcoal shows us how painful that journey can be.
Charcoal will screen next at the 8th Annual Silicon Valley African Film Festival which runs September 29 – October 11. The Slum Film Festival in Kenya which runs October 1 – 27. Charcoal will also screen at The Reel Sisters of the Diaspora Film Festival where it won Best Narrative Short on October 21, and the Yonkers Film Festival from November 3-8.
Aramide A Tinubu is a film critic and entertainment writer. As a journalist, her work has been published in EBONY, JET, ESSENCE, Bustle, The Daily Mail, IndieWire and Blavity. She wrote her Master’s thesis on Black Girlhood and Parental Loss in Contemporary Black American Cinema. She’s a cinephile, bookworm, blogger and NYU + Columbia University alum. You can find her reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, read her blog at: www.chocolategirlinthecity.com or tweet her @midnightrami