Too Dark for “Dope”

Brown and dark skinned girls exist. There’s actually quite a few of us.

I’m actually really mad that I have to make this blog post, because I’m actually really excited to see this movie. But damn it if the trailer didn’t have one GLARING flaw (there were actually many, but I’m only focusing on the most blatant this time around).

So there I was a few months back, scrolling Tumblr and wasting the day away, when I came across the teaser for a new movie. It was produced by Pharrell Williams (who I have my own Qualms with–but he produced the second season of my favorite YouTube series “ABG,” so I was curious), and starred an entirely black cast. Dope, a movie set to release on June 16th, 2015, is the story of a trio of high schoolers who attend a drug dealer’s party and accidentally leave with his inventory. The drug dealer finds out that his drugs are missing, and hijinks ensue. The story sounded funny enough, and the characters seemed charming enough. I’ve seen Kiersey Clemons and Zoe Kravitz in a number of projects, all of which I enjoyed. And I consider Chanel Iman to be one of the most beautiful models in the game right now. The problem I have with the movie is that all of the girls look alike, while all of the boys are allowed to have various skin tones, heights, and features. What I mean is, of the three women in the cast (all of them being black women), all of them are extremely light skinned and/or biracial.

The reason why it turned me off, is because this isn’t exactly a new phenomenon. In fact, the unwritten “light skinned women only” rule has been in action for as long as black women have been entertainers. Dating all the way back to the Jazz Era (and even before then), it was difficult for black people to make it in the entertainment industry. Even when black men-sometimes regardless of their skin tone-could make an impact in the industry, black women almost always had to be light in order to be considered acceptable. Think of classic black female idols:  Josephine Baker, Dorothy Dandridge, Eartha Kitt, Lena Horne; all light skinned with relatively Eurocentric features, playing the love interests to black men with varying degrees in skin tone.

Dark skinned women (if included at all), on the other hand, are often portrayed as angry and loud, or the Mammies, or the comedic sidekicks to the light skinned girl’s heroine.

Light skinned/mixed black girls are viewed as the most desirable, and the most worthy of attention. And usually, the colorism aspect of casting practices aren’t even questioned until people bring attention to how discriminatory they may be. Of course, like everything else in the world, there are always exceptions where the main female characters are dark skinned. That’s not to say that they don’t exist, but it happens so rarely that when it does occur, it’s a pretty big deal. But in the case of Dope, I suppose I was disappointed because it seemed like just the same old thing: dark skinned black boy is quirky; he’s interested in light skinned black girl(s) who are deemed uber desirable and out of his league but somehow still intrigued by his quirkiness; he has a light skinned female friend who dresses like a boy, but may end up choosing femininity in the end to become another person’s (if not the protagonist’s) love interest. In a story focused on a collection of black people, no one thought to try and make the female characters more…diverse in terms of looks. With all the beautiful black girls in the world that exist, they only found it believable that girls lighter than paper bags could be seen as desirable.

It’s stupid. And also unbelievable. And also boring. Because light skinned women as objects of dark skinned male affection (and also idolization) is such a played out thing, and the constant inclusion of that trope within the media is so damaging to the self confidence of dark skinned women.

Considering the fact that Pharrell “New Black” Williams is the producer doesn’t make this any less surprising, but I’m sure that this casting choice would’ve been made regardless. 9 times out of 10, when a black woman is included in some sort of production, she’s usually light skinned or mixed. Especially if the producers want the project to appeal to a “broader” (see: not only black) audience. I’ve also noticed that darker skinned black girls included in these projects perpetuate aggressive stereotypes for comedic effect (see: Mercedes Jones, Judy Cooper, etc.), or only last for a short amount of time before being removed.

It is what it is. I’ve grown used to it. But it’s also why I choose to watch YouTube series made by black women. I feel like black women are more likely to include a wider range of other black women, because we feel the effects of these casting flaws so deeply.

Despite my disappointment with the casting decisions (as well as some of the tropes attached to the female characters involved), I don’t think that should deter anyone from seeing Dope. The plot seems interesting, the dialogue is witty and pretty funny, and the actors all seem to have a strong sense of chemistry with one another. I really just hope that in the future, more producers and casting directors will consider the fact that it’s actually realistic for brown skinned and dark skinned black girls to be compelling love interests and heroines, rather than a sidekick to the light skinned love interests and heroines.

And, honestly, I’m just tired of black coming-of-age stories revolving around men, in general. There are so many, and while I love the fact that this one has a relatively modern vibe to it, I’d love to see black girls play roles other than love interests and side characters. If the story consisted of various black girls AND guys, maybe I’d be more impressed.

28 thoughts on “Too Dark for “Dope”

  1. Mariam Tajudeen says:

    Well Read article, I completely understand what your saying. It seems to me that colorism in the entertainment industry is often demeaned as nit picking( we should be happy for all black cast that isn’t about racism or slavery) or just an another angry black women complaining(furthering the stereotype). Not everyone truly sees the negative effects of selective casting and marginalization because either they are benefitting from it or they are accustomed to what is “aesthetically appealing.” It is frustrating to know that in 2015 this is still a problem.

  2. Dwayne A. Innis says:

    Well written article.
    The sad truth is that we are inundated with stereotypes based on complexion dating back to the days of black bondage in this hemisphere. We’ve been made to believe that dark-skinned people are more agressive, harder, angrier, less aesthetically pleasing and any number of less than complimentary traits attributed.
    Much of this, imo, has to do with buying into European standards of beauty. The funny thing is that there are still those who equate those standards with intellect as well. Now, it probably wouldn’t be so bad if we, ourselves, as blacks didn’t so often buy into those notions. As stated previously, perhaps it IS time to create one’s own outlets. Perhaps it IS that time so we no longer will see darker subservient characters (as in “The Help”) or aggressive, often down-trodding portrayals (“Precious “) or the God-fearing, religiously speaking moral compass (anything from “Imitation of Life” to many of Tyler Perry’s films). This isn’t to say they are bad productions. Only that there is nothing wrong with showing other traits / personalities. Then again, this is but one man’s opinion.

  3. K says:

    So true! I was very excited to see this film and at first didn’t even notice this when I watched the trailer. I was on Instagram and saw a promo one of the cast members posted and I just thought they all looked very similar. Where I’m from the whole “dark skin” “light skin” thing isn’t an issue (maybe I don’t see it) maybe that’s why I didn’t notice at first. Compared to girlhood this is so different I mean the coming of age story is about a black girl and she’s black (darker skin) which I absolutely love. I’m surprised with Pharell especially after the negative attention he got from his GIRL* video.

  4. Grab the Lapels says:

    Author Roxane Gay (in her book Bad Feminist) astutely points out that the first black person to win an Oscar (for best supporting actress) was Hattie McDaniel as a maid in Gone with the Wind in 1939. In 2012, Octavia Spencer wins an Academy Award (for best supporting actress) for playing a maid in The Help. Not much has changed.

    Precious was praised and won awards, but subsequent photos have Gabby Sidibe whitewashed (see this example from Elle magazine vs. a regular photo:

    • EtherealNoir says:

      The unfortunate thing with Gabby is that her role as Precious didn’t really effect the type of work she got afterwards in a positive way. I watched her on American Horror Story, and she was majorly desexualized and angry as a character. On Empire, at least she’s cheerful and honest. That’s a step up.

    • EtherealNoir says:

      I don’t dislike light skinned girls at all, but I do dislike people who consider them more beautiful than their dark skinned counterparts. Light Skinned girls didn’t ask for that, so I can’t blame them.

      • deckerkai says:

        But why should it bother you? it is just one of many traits some like or don’t like.
        I know guys who only like dark women, in fact there are guys that only like big girls, short girls, tall girls, fine girls with ugly faces, cute girls who are big, what every w woman looks like some guy gotta have it.

        like you may not like short guys, should all short guys be mad? I have been shot down for being too tall, should I be mad at that?

      • EtherealNoir says:

        This has nothing to do with what men are attracted to. Idk why men think everything is about them, but it’s not. And when people say that they don’t like dark skinned people, it’s usually because we don’t fit Eurocentric beauty standards that have been imposed on us for hundreds of years.
        Poor you for getting shot down for being “too tall,” but I’m sure you’ll see plenty of tall men on TV, in the movies, and in magazines. Your height and my skin color are nothing to compare. I don’t even know why you’d even try.

  5. roswashere says:

    I loved everything you had to say here. I agree wholeheartedly and I’m often turned off from “black movies” and tv shows that feature a black cast but not enough diversity within the casting. I especially hate how darker skinned women are portrayed in movies and tv. I just don’t support movies that don’t support me!

  6. ian19371 says:

    Hi, really good post, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and the points your brought up were true. I think the Orange Is the New Black show does feature a good amount of dark skinned women, have you watched the show?

    • EtherealNoir says:

      Yeah, I do. But as much as I like it, it’s says something when the cast with the largest number of dark skinned women takes place in a prison.
      Not to knock it. I still like it. But yeah…

      • EtherealNoir says:

        I honestly just want something simple. Dark skinned black girl in the ‘burbs, having adventures with her friends. Maybe she has supernatural abilities?
        It would’ve been nice to see a dark skinned Storm like she was in the comics, if you meant something that already exists.

  7. keletheardentfangirl says:

    I totally agree! I loved Dope, but I was disgruntled by the all light-skinned female cast. I’m so tired of seeing only light skinned/mixed race black girls portrayed as desirable while brown and dark skinned girls are barely represented at all.

  8. Keepin it 100 says:

    This is so shortsighted. The only reason for the hate in the black community between light and dark is due to the insecurities of the darker skinned people.
    The darker skinned people did this themselves, and keep adressing this issue will keep this hate you have.

    Darker skinned people put light skinned people on a pedestal. Darker skinned people made them this special. Darker skinned made that separation.
    Only darker skinned people are so ingnorant to kill themselves, create hate and jealousy amongs themselves.
    So many times that you see ignorant black people talking down on others because they didn’t make something out themselves.

    Hell even in this movie they adress that point blank.
    Saying ” im not like other niggas. Cause niggas is so ignorant to say niggas dont get to college. Niggas dont do nice things. Niggas don’t go out the country and have a vacation around the world.
    Only niggas hold other niggas back.”

    That is sad. So sad. And it’s even worse to see back people actually believe that, that they can’t achieve anything or whatever.
    Oh oh they only cast lightskinned girls.
    Get real. There’s enough darkskinned people that can act. And even if we started really counting how many dark skinned girls out there how can act, lets say out of the hundred dark skinned girl 10 can act. That means the rest is doing other stuff.
    And let’s just say those only 10 are high profile actress’s. THIS movie is kow budget
    And mayyyybeee the dark skinned girls passed on it. Or maybeeee the dark skinned girls couldn’t really act the way the gay director wanted them to.

    So short sided it makes me mad.
    What’s next? Fuck alicia keys for singing so good she probably got on cause she’s light skinned.

    And this is coming from a black dark skinned woman who believes in her own strength and capabilities and making something out of myself.

  9. Anonymous says:

    I’m so tired of seeing biracial and lighter skinned females in the media most of the time. I feel sorry for my darker skinned nieces, I wonder if seeing lighter females as more desirable damages their self esteem. A couple of years ago, I took my niece to buy some barbie dolls, and instead of picking the black dolls she preferred the light-skinned and white dolls. On the other hand, black males are displayed by the media in all different shades, but black females are usually lighter shades. I’m not worried about my newphews and how they feel about their appearance, they’re happy and think they’re desirable and cool. I’m just concerned about my nieces. I would love to see more beautiful dark-skinned females who are fit, smart, and overall good role models for our children and some adults too.

  10. Kelz says:

    I’m so tired of seeing biracial and lighter skinned females in the media most of the time. I feel sorry for my darker skinned nieces, I wonder if seeing lighter females as more desirable damages their self esteem. A couple of years ago, I took my niece to buy some barbie dolls, and instead of picking the black dolls she preferred the light-skinned and white dolls. On the other hand, black males are displayed by the media in all different shades, but black females are usually lighter shades. I’m not worried about my newphews and how they feel about their appearance, they’re happy and think they’re desirable and cool. I’m just concerned about my nieces. I would love to see more beautiful dark-skinned females who are fit, smart, and overall good role models for our children and some adults too.

  11. Sarah says:

    Just discovering your blog for the first time and i agree with everything you said. While I enjoyed the movie, I couldn’t help being disturbed by the glaring absence of attractive darker skinned women, even made more obvious by the constant drooling over the light skinned actresses. The camera spent time ogling every part Zoe Kravitz and Chanel Iman’s bodies and faces, but couldn’t find 5 seconds to spend on an attractive dark skinned girl. WHEN WILL THE MADNESS STOP IN THE BLACK COMMUNITY?????

  12. Yetteb says:

    Well it was one of the first things I noticed too and I said to myself: is their any dark skinned sistas?
    I think all hues and shapes and sizes of black women should be represented. I also agree that dark skinned wonen should not be protrayed as tve stereotypical angry black woman.

  13. funnyneleh says:

    This is a really great article. I’ve been subconsciously feeling this way since I was a little girl. I always wanted to see a better representation of myself on screen but hardly got to see it. Although we have a show like Insecure, it’s sad to say that the represenation of brown and darker skinned women has not changed since Dope was released. Your article perfectly articulated the lack of representation many black women have.

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