Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels
Valentine’s Day is literally around the corner, and although it would make sense for me to recommend you dark skin friendly romance films/TV series, instead I felt it would better to use this opportunity, to bring awareness to the lack of fair and accurate representation dark skin women, non-binary people and trans men have in romance films and TV shows.
Dark skin cisgender (cis) men, especially cis queer men, are definitely impacted by the lack of representation in romantic films and TV series; in several film industries globally. However, this is not to the same extent as women, non-binary people and trans men who are generally erased from love stories in most media internationally.
As dark skin is associated with masculinity and lighter skin is associated with femininity, the impact of this for example in Hollywood is generally a lighter skin character (most likely a cis-heterosexual woman) falls in love with a chivalrous, desirable dark skin character (a cis-heterosexual man). This trope is portrayed in several of your favourite Black movies such as The Best Man, Love and Basketball, Brown Sugar, need I go on?
If we see dark skin characters that are cis-heterosexual women (especially Black Women) they tend to be the ‘best friend’ that isn’t considered a love interest at all or is the second choice (for example, Joelle in Dear White People). If the character does get have the opportunity for a romantic relationship, the portrayal tends to be a negative relationship and definitely something not be desired or ends horribly. A good example of this is Queen and Slim – they are on the run from the police, their relationship doesn’t stand a chance as it is overshadowed by constant danger.
Apart from Hollywood, we can see similar issues in global south film industries such as Bollywood, where colourism is a huge issue. In most Bollywood romance films we only see fair-skinned actors and actresses playing the principal roles and the dark skin characters being the antagonists.
UK British Asian film, Bend It Like Beckham is one of the only films where I saw a darker skin South Asian actress be the main character, with her own romance plot. However for me, I feel the romance elements happened at the end of the movie, the film focused more on Jess’ love of football which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In other Asian movies such as Crazy Rich Asians (one of my favourite films), there was criticism for the lack of darker skin Asian actors, perhaps Rachel (the female lead) could have been dark skin, this would have added layers to the film considering a big theme of the film was family acceptance.
This exclusion doesn’t only impact dark skin cis-heterosexual people but can impact dark skin people from the LGBTQIA+ community. The popular TV show Pose was praised for its positive LGBTQIA+ representation. However, it still perpetuated colourism with its portrayal of dark skin Trans women. Eletrka and Candy were not depicted to have successful romantic relationships, unfortunately Candy’s character is killed and Elektra was the one everyone came to for relationship advice.
Apart from the film Pariah, I can not recall a moment where I saw dark skin representation in an LGBTQIA+ relationship that was not centered on cis-men. Pariah was the first time I saw a dark skin lesbian teenager exploring her sexuality despite her shy nature. It was also nice to see her being desired by more than one person. Unfortunately this film is not that well known which further highlights the lack of LGBTQIA+ representation amongst dark skin people.
This may be just a compilation of thoughts in my brain but as a writer and actress, this is something that I have always wondered whilst growing up. This is an issue I know that other dark skin people can relate to and why we want to emphasise why representation is important. The lack of accurate and positive portrayals of romance for us dark skin folk has real-life consequences. Erasing dark skin people from love stories can result in us feeling as if we are unworthy of love due to the colour of our skin.
However, things are evolving to be more positive, we are starting to see movies such as The Photograph and TV shows such as Insecure. Maybe casting directors and writers (or mainly just Issa Rae?) are paying attention. As things slowly improve I can create a list that showcases dark skin representation, that is inclusive for all!