In Hollywood, Even Dark-Skinned Black Women Can't Play Dark-Skinned Black Women

Note: This piece originally appeared on my blog in a slightly different form on 04/06/16.

I walking through Hell’s Kitchen in Manhattan yesterday when I saw the ad for HBO’s film, Confirmation. For anyone who doesn’t watch HBO, the cable network will air its interpretation of the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas scandal later this month.

I'm not sure if I will watch or not. Although I am a huge Kerry Washington fan, I flinched when I saw her face on the movie poster.

You see, Anita Hill is a dark-skinned black woman. (In fact, Clarence Thomas reportedly denied harassing Hill by saying "What would I want with a woman as black as Anita Hill?") And Kerry Washington...well, her skin is somewhat lighter. No, a whole lot lighter.

This isn't the first time this year that I've noticed the virtual bleaching of dark-skinned black women in biopics. In March, Zoe Saldana dealt with a firestorm of controversy after being cast to play singer Nina Simone in an upcoming film. Light-skinned Zoe Saldana looks nothing at all like Nina Simone, a dark-skinned black woman with decidedly African facial features.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised. Hollywood is still dominated by white men who, more often than not, bring their Eurocentric ideals of beauty into the casting room with them. And, as many people (unfortunately) conflate blackness with ugliness, darker-skinned actresses are marginalized in Hollywood.

After all, light-skinned black women already have the "love interest" roles on lock. Watch any music video accompanying “urban music” and you will almost always see a storyline featuring “light, bright, damn-near-white” black women being romantically pursued by the star of the video, usually a much darker-skinned man. And most family-oriented black films and TV shows cast light-skinned women to play “the mother”, too. But if a dark-skinned actress can’t get cast in a biopic about a real-life dark-skinned woman, who will she be cast to play? The (almost always overweight) "sassy" best friend who never has a date? The jealous-ass "bitch" with "an attitude"? The sexless matriarch?

Or maybe the Invisible Woman…

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