85 years ago, Hollywood observed and made commentary on the social demon of colorism.
White-American director John M. Stahl brought to life William Hurlbut’s screenplay (based off Fannie Hurst’s novel). Disrobing various racial tropes about Blackness of film, this collective peeled away how difficult skin complexion is for Black people in America, and how the issues around Blackness are not necessarily based on beauty or intellect, but how it translates to access and assimilation.
Who can forget this movie, Imitation of Life, where you can see a Black-skinned Ms. Deliah Johnson and her white-skinned daughter Peola tussling with skin based identity? This issue mirrors not just things that were believed in the 1930s… but those sentiments that continue to be a stain on our cultural concepts of value, beauty and acceptance in the new millennium. Reaching back to slavery, this notion is not just cultural but also systemic and Hurst, Hurlbut and Stahl scrapped the surface of this in this movie. Now in 2019, Power‘s star Naturi Naughton has stepped up to pick up the charge, erode the wicked concept of colorism and systemically impact what Blackness means by working with Procter and Gamble, My Black is Beautiful in partnership with DoSomething.org and their call-to-action campaign #RedefineBlack.
Naturi understands first hand how colorism impacted her a young dark-skinned girl. As one of the founding members of the R&B singing group 3LW, she was known not only by her gifted voice, but by her color. It gave her a complex. Was she pretty enough? How did she rank in comparison to the creamy complected young ladies that shared the stage with her in the group, and the charts with her in the late 90s.
“It is so important for me to represent this cause. I always want to support Black girls because I was there,” she shares. “I want them to know that those insecurities will wear off eventually.”
For her it was coming out of 3LW, going to college, having a community that supported her and then achieving success in another arena. Broadway, with all of its diversity helped redefine beauty and value for her. She was in the revival show, Hairspray and that was important shift in how she saw herself. Television also helped.
“It was an evolution for me being a darker skinned woman… ” She reveals ” Which is why didn’t I always feel beautiful. But then I started to get really powerful roles like Tasha in Power. I was also the first African-American bunny in the Playboy Club television show. Even when I was cast as Lil’ Kim in Notorious. All of these roles helped me understand that my Black was beautiful”
It was all serendipitous.
She did not seek out roles that would celebrate her dark skin, but by what she believes is the intervention of God, accepted jobs that empowered her to walk in confidence. Taking control of what she understood was beautiful in her self, her complexion and the complexity of these Black characters were her first steps towards the powerful process of redefinition.
Motherhood also helped in the evolution of her awareness and why she believes it is important to redefining the word in systems of academia and socially accepted spaces.
“My responsibility is personal in a way because I am the mother of a little girl with Black skin.” She tells The Source, “She will grow up unfortunately in a culture the does not include her. I have to work to redefine that so that her world is better. Being a mother has shown me what beauty is… and given me a sense of accountability to participate in redefinition.”
And this pours over also into her work in Power.
Her character, Tasha St. Patrick, is will emerge as a fighter for her family. She sees her character as much stronger than before, never giving up on her family. A character like this for Naturi is evident of how Hollywood is needed to reshape the word “Black” and how people see Black people. This season Tasha will show the world just how strong Black women are as mothers, particularly mothers who no longer look to their mate to give them identity. Naturi believes that “Strength is the redefinition of Black.”
Check out how this campaign will shift how culture in a very real way.