Black Panther’ Is Ready To Take Dark-Skinned Actresses (And Colorism) Seriously
By Clarkisha Kent
We’re days away from the release of “Black Panther,” and all I can think about is how emotionally unprepared I am for it. Common reasons for this include not having seen a movie with a black superhero lead in about 20 years (no, I am not counting “Catwoman” and “Hancock”) and the fact that my simultaneously Nigerian-American and black American self is not ready to have my complex experience validated on screen.
Another really big reason “Black Panther” is going to be an emotional roller coaster is the number of dark-skinned black women who were cast front and center for this film.
It doesn’t seem like it would be a big deal, but it is, especially considering the uncomfortable relationship that we — black people both here and abroad, even in the motherland — have with the insidious force known as colorism.
Colorism is defined as the discrimination, bias or prejudice leveled against folks with darker skin tones. And that phenomenon usually occurs among folks of the same racial or ethnic background. Even brown-skinned people, who fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum from light-skinned and dark-skinned, are not spared from colorism.
This is why “Black Panther” is sort of an anomaly. Based on everything we know about colorism, who it affects, and what exactly feeds into it, we wouldn’t expect that many (or really any) dark-skinned and brown-skinned actresses would appear in “Black Panther.”
And yet there are. And here’s why it matters:
‘Black Panther’ goes out of its way to cast dark-skinned women in every single role that calls for a woman — including the love interest.
Dark-skinned and brown-skinned black women are abundant in the movie. You can see it in the background characters, the promotional material and in the much-talked-about Dora Milaje — an elite team of female bodyguards that defer to our good King T’Challa, played by Chadwick Boseman. And every single significant speaking role has been cast with a dark-skinned or brown-skinned actress.
There’s Letitia Wright as Princess Shuri (T’Challa’s sister), Angela Bassett as Queen Ramonda (his mother/stepmother), Danai Gurira as Okoye (leader of the Dora Milaje), Florence Kasumba as an elite member of the Dora Milaje (and the scene stealer that personally accompanied T’Challa to America in “Captain America: Civil War”), and Lupita Nyong’o as super spy Nakia (also a member of the Dora Milaje and T’Challa’s love interest).
Every single woman in T’Challa’s life is either dark-skinned or brown-skinned: His sister. Momma. Bodyguards.
Lupita Nyong’o Chadwick Boseman and Letitia Wright in “Black Panther.”
It’s a huge deal. And perhaps the biggest deal of all is Nyong’o, a dark-skinned woman, playing T’Challa’s love interest.
I know many people in real life that have mothers, sisters and friends with skin darker than 100 percent cocoa, and who are the same hue themselves, yet wouldn’t be caught dead getting romantically involved with a dark-skinned black woman. Some people proudly proclaim their affinity for “redbones” and disdain for “dark meat.” That kind of thinking, the abhorrence of dark-skinned women, is deeply entrenched in our culture. And if you don’t believe me, a dark-skinned black woman, consider what Mathew Knowles, a dark-skinned black man, recently had to say on the matter. Knowles, the father of singers Beyoncé and Solange, says he was conditioned to only date white women or light-skinned black women who “looked white.”
Colorism makes it so that loving dark-skinned black women is not seen as lucrative, beneficial or valuable when it comes to amassing cultural, social, economic or even political capital. This results in us getting denigrated, dogged out and devalued at every turn.
So you imagine how radical it is to have a dark-skinned woman portrayed as the main love interest at the center of the Afrofuturistic utopia known as Wakanda.