Why Diversity Always Excludes The Ones Who Need “Inclusion” The Most
While watching Black Panther — the main ingredient that gave me much to be ecstatic about was the undeniable force and regal beauty of the Black actresses that were commissioned for full effect.
Wakanda is a fictional African country that apparently does everything right when it comes to representing those who seem to always be missing in the bigger narrative. The decision makers behind the scenes seemed to be adamant about the “dark-skinned” initiative — so much so that lighter-skinned actresses had to think twice during the audition process.
Amandla Stenberg was quite vocal about the reasons why she opted to step aside — so her darker-skinned counterparts could enjoy the opportunity to be a part of a project that was meant to highlight their assets. She was heralded with praise and admiration for her selfless sacrifice — and while I do understand some of the reasoning behind her actions — there’s also the issue of why colorism is such a misunderstood concept.
You know things are terribly wrong when even those within your community are struggling to grasp the basics.
Dark-skinned women have always been expendable and regulated to the “back of the bus” so to speak — and this treatment hasn’t yet been rectified because of how the logistics get churned into bits — that scatter into countless versions of our varied perceptions.
Stenberg is a good place to start when dissecting the ways in which dark-skinned women are cheated and blindly compensated. As a biracial actress with a healthy roster of options — her thought process led her to believe that a movie about an African superhero — surrounded by capable women of supreme intelligence — should naturally feature Black women who are visibly “black.”
However — based on her statement — it appears that being “visibly black” means a darker complexion — which isn’t entirely wrong — but that’s where things get sticky.
As a Nigerian-American who grew up in Nigeria — I was surrounded by family members and friends who weren’t biracial or multi-ethnic — but presented skin hues that ranged from medium brown to really light. So — based on that reality — Stenberg could’ve starred in Black Panther — opposite the other darker-skinned actresses like Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira and Letitia Wright.
Her casting would’ve also helped to alleviate the damaging notion that revolves around the implication of how including dark-skinned women always has to be a ceremonious duty with fanfare — and the glaring spotlight that reveals why it shouldn’t have to be so.
Dark-skinned models, actresses etc don’t need to be given special treatment in order to feel “normal.” They need to be included with the respect and consideration that is afforded their counterparts who don’t have to undergo the scrutiny of “diversity” in order to be rewarded.
It’s almost akin to one of my pet peeves when it comes to being complimented for my skin color. At times — lighter-skinned Black women will go out of their way to remark on the richness of my tone — and while I don’t doubt their sincerity — there’s always the warning that their best intentions are laced in the debilitating practice of trying to boost the esteem of women like me — who are never recognized for our indisputable desirability.
Men’s magazines like FHM or Sports Illustrated methodically reject “regular Black women” when detouring from the White aesthetic and instead rely on the viability of women of color who possess the more “refined” attributes. Even Black male celebrities can’t escape their exotic palettes when wading in the dating pool. It’s either a straight up White chick or options that can adequately rival that standard.
It’s no wonder that the beauty and fashion industry have taken note and steered away from the risk of celebrating the worthiness of Black women. I mean there’s a very good reason why Naomi Campbell is still the only dark-skinned model with a household name — working the prestige runways. There are others like her — but what are their names?
This tradition of exclusion when it comes to dark-skinned women is also standard for those who are supposed to know better
When Jay Z and his Bey released their highly-anticipated video — Family Feud — the main attraction were the women seated at the table and how refreshingly diverse they were. Yes — it’s true that there was a solid aim towards diversity — but unfortunately as a woman of color who boasts Black parents without a splash of Whiteness or any exotic groups — I had to stomach the disappointment of not being vitally represented.
As A Wrinkle in Time casts its magical spell on audiences at home and abroad — the word “diversity” is frequently used as the incentive for us to embrace the film with the thrilling reception that’t still blessing Black Panther. And again — as diverse as the cast appears to be — the missing element that would satisfy all requirements — is a Black girl who woman who isn’t “uncredited” — but rather fully visible in a way that would make my imaginary daughter fantastically content.
It seems that Black actors and biracial actresses are the ones that are gaining most of the benefits in this era of mandated inclusion. Once they’ve been added to the cast of characters in ambitious projects that are propped for blockbuster or ratings glory — the demands have been fulfilled and there’s no attempt to take the necessary steps to ensure that a dark-skinned ethnic actress is showcased.
Some will point to advancements being made through current fare like OWN’s hit show Queen Sugar, HBO’s Insecure and of course the bombastic success of Black Panther — and while those examples are stellar — they are also sporadic instances that don’t do enough to bolster the bigger picture.
When it comes to entertainment — Black women who match my template are still not given the opportunities that allow us cinematic passports to battle aliens or indulge in love scenes that aren’t just for the pleasure of a Black audience — or lead an action-packed film that makes good use of our enviable physique.
Until there’s a tangible movement towards change — diversity will always be that word that finds a way to hide from its definition when Black women with dark skin and round noses remain the bone of contention.
Exclusion is our impediment and the healing measures will require viewing us through human lenses and that’s not “diversity.”