A few days ago, the hilarious crime action film Sugar Rush was released on Netflix to its millions of subscribers. The film tells the story of the Sugar Sisters who discover a whopping sum of money and have to deal with the repercussions that it comes with including the financial crimes commission and the tons of people who claim ownership to the money.
The film stars Nollywood royalty like Adesua Etomi and casts popular actresses and influencers such as Bisola Aiyeola, Tobi Bakre, Bimbo Ademoye and Toke Makinwa. As expected, there have been various reactions to the film from the enthusiastic audience that waited for its digital release.
One of the most interesting comments was posted to Twitter and criticised Adesua Etomi for her performance saying ‘Adesua Etomi is a beautiful soul but she isn’t a good actor. I understand that probably Colorism and favouritism may be responsible for her getting roles on a regular but let’s be honest’. This tweet has since gathered almost a thousand retweets and has set forth a conversation about colourism in the film industry.
While this tweet may have seemed like a reach, it is not abnormal to see where it comes from. It has been rumoured that there’s a lot that goes into casting for various projects including social following and clout that the said actor possesses and given such criteria, it is not out of place to see that skin colour could be given some certain preference especially as it follows the conventional definition of beauty. It is why you’re more likely to see job advertisements specifying for light-skinned ladies to work in industries like media, marketing and hospitality. Light-skinned people are generally paid more attention and have extra privileges.
We may plaster the ‘black is beautiful’ tag all over our Instagrams and say ‘melanin popping’ now and then but it’s also okay to say that this behaviour has been internalized within us. We have, in one kind of way, held light-skinned people over their dark-skinned counterparts and this thought is deeply amplified in Nollywood. It may be rebranded as something called pretty privilege but even that has a lot to do with skin colour. While there are no numbers to show, it is fair to say that there are a lot of fair girls in the industry going by the new additions these days. Various times, we’ve seen that in the entire entertainment industry, talent is not enough and sometimes, there needs to be more. In the music industry, it’s the aura of sexiness and femininity that is required – which is one of the reasons stars like Teni are generally applauded for breaking out without bending to the rules. In Nollywood, it is fair to say it is a look thing – look a certain way and be conforming to the image that is required.
In 2016, Nollywood actress Mercy Johnson had an interview with Punch Newspapers where she spoke about starting in this industry and not getting any roles because of the colour of her skin. According to her, ‘Somebody once told me that I am too dark but that is where the grace and favour of God come in.’ A year before that, Keira Hewatch, another actress had spoken to Pulse about losing roles due to her complexion. Most of the time, the excuses she was given was that there was a lot of work that goes into lighting a darker person as opposed to a light-skinned person. More recently, Dianna Yekinni, another actress had various scenes in Beverly Naya’s award-winning documentary, ‘Skin’ where she was told that if she wasn’t light-skinned by 2018 that she won’t be working.
Colourism is a bias that contributes to social inequality. In industries like Nollywood, it fuels an assumption of superiority and that certain people deserve better because of the colour of their skin. It also underestimates talent and merit and could lead to more devastating effects such as a lack of self-esteem and undue pressure on the dark-skinned actresses. The truth is Nollywood has a pervasive colourism problem and it often goes unnoticed or swept under the carpet. We need to start identifying and retracing this before it worsens.