Actor and filmmaker Bill Duke, most recently known for the critically acclaimed documentary Dark Girls, is taking his message of self- acceptance to a coffee table near you.
In an interview last week Duke discussed the recently released coffee table photo book of the same name. With help from the Dark Girls film production team of Shelia Moses and Barron Claiborne, the book version is a stunning 174-paged celebration of dark skinned women including the likes of Sheryl Lee Ralph, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Loretta Divine and Camille Winbush. In addition to photos, the book also features quotes, poems and personal essays of love and encouragement from both the notable as well as mothers, grandmothers and daughters about the importance and value of self-love.
But what’s most striking about the book is the gorgeous cover, which features a multi-colored feathered boa faced Lupita N’yongo, who we all know is Hollywood’s newest “it” girl – as well as Black America’s newest fancy.
“She is a gorgeous, beautiful dark skinned woman,” said Duke, speaking about N’yongo’s true diversity of beauty. “Additionally, she doesn’t just have intellect, but every time she speaks, she speaks from her soul and her heart about her journey and attempts to encourage other women -dark and light- to never stop.”
Likewise he believes that N’yongo’s rise, along with a number Black themed productions starring darker skinned Black women including “Scandal” and “How to Get Away With Murder,” signify a change in how Hollywood relates to darker skinned Black woman in particular. However, Duke also said that he is not ready to declare Hollywood cured from its social ills yet. Matter of fact, he is not even ready to declare the Black community itself healed.
Duke argues that while the media and society-at-large have on one level accepted her, he also believes that there is a history of hatred of dark skin in this country that means both entities also might feel threatened by her. He cites the recent flap over Vanity Fair allegedly brightening N’yongo’s skin for a editorial in the February 2014 edition of the magazine, as proof of just how the issue of colorism is ingrained in us culturally.
He adds, “My hope and prayer that we as a community will support this beautiful woman not only because of the color of her skin but her talent and what she represents to other dark skinned Black women. Because sometimes we are our worse enemy.”
The internalized enemy, he said, also includes the #TeamLightSkin and #TeamDarkSkin, which have become staple forms of entertainment within Black social media. Colorism, he said, is both pervasive and destructive. And it is time that Black folks in particular acknowledge the ways in which we are as cruel to each other as any White person. At the root, this dysfunctional lies squarely at the foot of White supremacy, Duke also believes that colorism is ultimately our issue. And if we want it to go away, we have to take responsibility for its eradication.
“Nobody is coming to save us. If they were coming, they would have came already, right?” We have two options to blame everyone for our issues or get off our lazy, ignorant Black butts and stop it,” he said.
It’s a pretty harsh condemnation, however Duke believes that he is speaking from a place of action. In fact, he said that a major motivating factor behind Dark Girls, both the film and now the coffee table book, was what he called an “urgency” to deal with the suffering of young dark skinned Black women.
“In my family – relatives I have and friends that I have – [some of them] little Black girls being called: monkey; tar baby; blackie; ugly…and the list goes on and on and on,” he said, talking about the personal inspirations behind the project. “It’s not just a film or a book; it should be a movement because anybody with any kind of awareness at all can see what young girls are going through today. They should have some compassion that leads them to action. If they don’t see it then they are living in a world of oblivion or just ignoring it.”