Alexandra Shipp’s recent comments on Twitter regarding her role as Storm and colorism reminded me of how much work still needs to be done when it comes to addressing and actively combatting colorism, especially in the entertainment industry. The complicit state of mind that many light skinned women have when it comes to navigating colorism is one that continues to set us back and prevents us from making any sort of significant progress. Fighting colorism isn’t and shouldn’t be a one-man show, just as fighting racism should be an all-inclusive effort. Those with privilege have a duty and responsibility to use said privilege in order to help those who are at the bottom of this hierarchy but that seems to be something that many are reluctant to do and it’s probably because they think it’ll come at the cost them their position at the top. They don’t want equality, they want a system to remain in which they’re the most sought-after group with the most to gain at all times.
It began when a twitter user suggested that the X-Men films do a recast of their characters and actually use a dark skinned actress this time since Storm is originally a dark skinned Black woman and not biracial or light skinned at all. Shipp, like most biracial and light skinned women tend to do, got defensive and went on a spiel about how racist Black people are to their own kind and how she can’t help her skin tone. Cue: eye roll. She referred to the discussion of colorism and her contribution to it as “racism” because she’s not intelligent enough to know the difference between the two.
The kicker is when she boldly stated that "it’s not an actor’s job to help fight against things like colorism and that she would never turn down a role to make others feel comfortable", and that is the issue that a lot of actors have when it comes to taking roles, especially ones not meant for them. Alexandra Shipp was cast as Storm for X-Men: Apocalypse and gave a less than stellar performance, but this isn’t the first time she blatantly took a role that should’ve been given to someone else. She also starred as Aaliyah in the Lifetime biopic that was also a disaster. Aaliyah’s family did not approve of the production of this film but Shipp, who’s also biracial with a white mother, went along with it anyway even after plenty of public pushback.
Halle Berry is also guilty of doing this, as she was cast as Storm in the original X-Men movies. What do her and Shipp have in common? They’re both light skinned and biracial. There are plenty of instances in Hollywood where a light skinned actress will play the role of a character who’s meant to be dark skinned. Why? Because they’re only thinking about their career and acting credits. Their active participation in the erasure of dark skinned women in the media and the dwindling representation that we have seems to be of no concern to them, their allegiance is only with themselves at the end of the day and their actions speak louder than their words ever will.
The presence of dark skinned actresses in Hollywood is already few as is, and the handful of actresses that we do have are recycled for the same roles over and over again. So it annoys me when I see a light skinned actress, even worse a biracial one, who takes a role that an up-and-coming dark skinned actress could have gotten. When colorism is discussed and it comes time to hold light skinned women accountable for their contribution to ongoing colorism, they tend to throw rocks and hide their hands and scream “racism”, or talk about how we’re all one big happy black family at the end of the day. If that were really true, why would you willingly step on the backs of your so-called “sisters” in order to elevate yourself? That’s no sister of mine. The envelope needs to be pushed further and further when we’re actively fighting things like anti-blackness, colorism, and racism on an everyday basis. We can’t just accept superficial words anymore with no action that actually makes an impact.
Yes, I expect for these actresses to start speaking up on behalf of dark skinned women when something is wrong and to stop taking roles not meant for them. Simply acknowledging that colorism exists and that you benefit from it isn’t enough anymore, especially when you’re still using that privilege against dark skinned women to get ahead. Put dark skinned women on, amplify our work and our voices, defend us, give us our space, stop taking opportunities from us. It’s not fair. These women aren’t starving and on the brink of poverty, they’re hungry for more roles and anything that will get them more buzz in Hollywood even if it’s at the expense of dark skinned women. And until they stop actively perpetuating colorism and leaving dark skinned Black women in the dark, we won’t get anywhere.
“Erin Dyana is a freelance writer with a focus on pop culture, criticisms, and beauty. Her work has been featured in Teen Vogue, Urban Social TV, Wear Your Voice Magazine, Clementine Zine, and Philadelphia Print Zine. In her free time she likes to create art, watch films, read books, and eat everything in sight."