Skin isn’t only surface level.

The concept of Skin is one that is prevalent in Nigeria that I talk about all the time, Skin Bleaching and Colourism.

The documentary follows Beverly Nada, a Nollywood actress as she dissects the topic of skin bleaching through her own personal experiences and the experiences of others, from other Nollywood actors to children to women on the street.

The topic of skin bleaching is a difficult one to broach even though it is prevalent in our society. From the movies we watch, the songs we listen to tweets we see every day.

The documentary doesn’t make light of the situation or tiptoe around the issue. It starts with different interviews, you have women talking about past experiences they’ve had where they’ve been made to feel bad or undesirable about their skin and how that affected them psychologically. It then cuts to Beverly having a conversation with a group of children and she asks them what beautiful is, and one responds with it has to do with what you look like. A few minutes later, we cut back to the group of children and one of the girls talks about her own skin saying

I like light skin because it’s like making me more special…… I want to be mixed with light so it can be mixed with brown…… I don’t want to be fair, I just don’t like black skin

When Beverly tried to ask her where the idea that “lighter is finer” came from, she said she didn’t know but I’m pretty sure it came from those around her and it broke my heart.

Throughout the documentary, Beverly asks women why they bleach their skin And a lot of the reasons are the same. To look more attractive and be more desirable. This need to be lighter to be seen as more attractive is steeped in colourism.

What is colourism?

Colourism is a type of skin tone based prejudice where people with lighter skin are prioritized and preferred over those with darker skin.

This video from BBC shows dark-skinned women from all over the world talking about colourism and their experiences with it.

Being a dark-skinned woman, I see it around me. From the way, people refer to lighter-skinned girl and their skin as ‘clean’ while darker skin is described with adjectives like ‘dirty’ and ‘charcoal’. I see tweets every day about how dark-skinned girls are ugly or how we look like gorillas or how we don’t compare to light-skinned girls or white girls. It is everywhere I turn. If I were to go to the supermarket and try and count the number of skin bleaching products I would lose count. And they all fall under different names (whitening creams, brightening creams, toner). Lupita Nyong’o much like Beverly has been vocal about her struggles with colourism. She was once told that at an audition she was “too dark” for television. The stories are endless.

That is why documentaries like this are important, they have women talking about how words have affected them and driven them to bleach their skin. And what makes comments like them more hurtful is how blasé people are about making them. If you say something about how hurtful colourism is, all hear in return in “Well that’s my preference.”

Other than asking women who have bleached their skin why they did it, Beverly asked if they would reverse the change if they could. And surprising the answer was yes. However, one answer is not for the reason you think.

In the documentary, Beverly interviews Bobrisky, a socialite known for bleaching their skin and selling their own bleaching products. While Bobrisky would go back to their darker skin if, given the choice, it’s was out of convenience rather than loving darker skin.

“The stress I use in rubbing my cream every day is terrible.”

This is not the answer that many would suspect. And that’s because Bobrisky doesn’t regret the skin bleaching, in fact, a few minutes prior they were happy to endorse it saying “The transformation is intact.” they said. When you have someone who is very visible and considered successful endorsing bleaching creams and selling their own, it makes sense why people want that. People want to BE that. It is the standard to aspire to.

The documentary also shines a light on some the economic of skin bleaching. The idea that if you are lighter skinned you can attract better suitors or people who can give you money. Or the idea that spending a lot of money on bleaching cream means that you belong to higher social class because you can afford to buy expensive bleaching creams for 200 thousand Naira ($516/£417). The documentary shows that there are two sides to skin bleaching, the cultural and economic.

The global analyst report in 2009 estimates that the skin bleaching industry was worth $10 billion and would rise to $23 billion by 2020.

Here’s an interesting fact about skin lighting in Nigeria-

The World Health Organisation published a report in 2011 estimating that 77% of Nigerian women use skin lighting products regularly. In comparison with 59% in Togo, 35% in South Africa and 27% in Senegal. That’s about 70 million people.

It may be a huge problem, but it’s a huge business that is not slowing down anytime soon.

I have one major gripe with the documentary and that is the last 20 or so minutes. The documentary switches focus. It becomes less about skin bleaching as a topic and more about Beverly’s personal journey as she visits her grandma in her village in Delta State. We see some very sweet moments but it reduces the scope of the documentary substantially as it only focuses on Beverly rather than the issue that drew us in. I can understand why the focus shifted as Beverly is the mouthpiece of the documentary, however, it’s not about her.

Skin is well shot. Daniel Etim Effiong and his team did a great job. The set where the interviews took places was a warm and inviting space. With gorgeous aerial shots and an understanding of how to film darker skin (something a photographer in the documentary talked about in the documentary) Skin isn’t style over substance.

There is a conversation to be had about skin lightening and skin bleaching and if this documentary opens people’s eyes to the issues with it, then I’m all for it.

While Skin is streaming on Netflix, you can also watch a documentary on skin bleaching on Refinery 29’s Youtube.

Originally published at http://www.thecinematicaficionado.com on June 29, 2020.

Just a girl who gives reviews on some movies that she’s seen. Some may be old, some may be new. There’s good and bad too. http://www.thecinematicaficionado.com/