To many outside and inside the black community, the furore surrounding Will Smith’s casting as Serena Williams’ father in the upcoming film ‘King Richard’ seems bizarre. Why are people complaining that a black person was cast to play another black person? This casting brought up an issue that is becoming more and more recognised within communities of colour: colourism. Colourism is discrimination based on how dark one’s skin is. It is one of the reasons why there is so much anti-black sentiment in communities of colour across the globe and one of the reasons why black people often feel more embattled than other BME communities.
Simply put, colourism is the idea that the darker one is, the less desirable one becomes, and this can be seen across the globe: in China where women wear ‘facekinis’ to protect from the sun on beaches and therefore remain lighter skinned; in India and parts of Africa where skin bleaching is extremely common, often through extreme methods; and, of course, in Hollywood with their questionable casting decisions.
This issue has existed for a long time. Many comic book fans were surprised when the very fair Halle Berry was cast to play the character Storm in ‘X-Men’, a character who was consistently drawn and described as dark skinned. More recently there was a backlash when it was revealed that the mixed race actress Amandla Stenberg was cast as the lead in ‘The Hate U Give’; a character once again described by the source material the film was based on as dark-skinned.
It may not seem like a big issue to those outside the BME community, but for darker-skinned people who are constantly reminded that the ideal is to be as close to white as possible, castings like these can be a kick in the teeth; a further reminder that they will never be attractive enough to others.
So when in 2019, after the success of movies like ‘Black Panther’, which had a darker skinned cast than many movies might have opted for, and ‘Crazy Rich Asians’, which showed that studios are capable of casting diverse and representative actors, a light skinned actor was cast to play a dark skinned man, it naturally upset a lot of people. It seems that the film industry is still stuck in the same narrow colourist rut it has always been in.
Image: Thomas Wolf