YA Movie Adaptations and the Erasure of Dark-Skinned Black Girls

I realized that I have a couple of things I want to talk about, but I don’t have a space to share that in between the weekly memes and book reviews. With that in mind, I decided to do this discussion feature. I can’t guarantee that this will be a weekly feature, but it’s something I want to move forward with. Some of the things I talk about will probably be more serious like this one, but most will likely be super random. Either way, the goal is to engage in discussion and to share my perspective on a range of topics.

This first post is something that’s been on my mind for a while because I’m tired of  dark-skinned black girls being erased from narratives and movie adaptations. It’s something that I’m noticing a lot more as I pay closer attention to casting information about YA movies. We can push for diversity in literature but when a character is whitewashed or erased in the movie adaptation, it kind of undermines the goal. This issue is a Hollywood problem that needs to be addressed. The erasure of dark skin black girls in movie roles is something I’m labelling as a Hollywood problem for two reasons: 1. I may be wrong on this, but I don’t think authors are necessarily responsible for casting their own characters in movie adaptations. Even if an author collaborates with the studio, at the end of the day the studio and director have a final say in these decisions. 2. I think Hollywood executives and the powers that be are responsible for the underrepresentation of darker skin girls on screen and for perpetuating this narrow Eurocentric perception of black girls.

Despite the push for diversity in Hollywood, there’s still a problem with colorism. Colorism isn’t a new concept. It’s global, rooted in anti-blackness, and the product of racism. What this means is that people with fair complexion are favored over those with darker complexions within a racial or ethnic group. It means those with lighter skin benefit from light skin privilege. For black girls, it means that light skin is deemed more attractive, more successful, and less threatening. It means darker skin black girls are on the receiving end of insults. It means you are more likely to find light skin, biracial, or racially ambiguous girls on magazine covers. It means audiences don’t see a range of blackness represented in film, tv, and media. Colorism isn’t just about attractiveness and insults because if it was skin bleaching pills and creams wouldn’t have the market they do. These harmful messages are internalized culturally. People don’t want their children to be dark and some will go to harmful lengths to change that. So, what message is Hollywood sending darker skin girls when we erase these characters in movie adaptations?

By putting the same Eurocentric faces in the spotlight, Hollywood sends the harmful message that perceived proximity to whiteness is more desirable and valuable. It imposes the belief to communities of color, specifically black communities, that whiteness is the standard we should strive for. Hollywood reinforces the perception that darker skin girls don’t have crossover appeal and can’t be successful, which is disheartening. It’s disheartening to see dark skin YA book characters erased just to fit Hollywood’s narrow standards. It’s disheartening to see Hollywood tell dark skin black girls that stories about them falling in love, being happy, and living on their own terms are not worth sharing with audiences on any screen. This is a problem for me because I want dark skin black girls celebrated. We deserve those positive images. We deserve to see characters that resonate with us and reflect our experience in books and on screen too.

With the success of Black Panther, I challenge directors and studio executives to change the standard because dark skin black girls deserve adequate representation on screen. They don’t deserve to be erased from stories that we are pushing for in the book community. We are literally asking publishers for richer diverse stories and Hollywood is erasing the characters we connected with. I hope Hollywood will use Black Panther as example of what true representation and inclusivity is supposed to look like. I hope it means we’ll see adequate representation on screen and behind the screen. I hope Hollywood will normalize darker skin girls and celebrate the range of blackness by not casting the same biracial actresses in these YA roles.

What are your thoughts on YA adaptations, colorism, and its effects? Is this something that you’ve thought about? Let me know your thoughts in the comments. Thanks for reading!

signature (10)

Follow me: Instagram // Twitter // Goodreads // Tumblr

9 thoughts on “YA Movie Adaptations and the Erasure of Dark-Skinned Black Girls

  1. What a thoughtful post Merline..!!! Amazing 👏👏
    Colorism is such an inherent brainwashed concept from where I come from, I don’t think I realized it’s wrong till quite later in my life… While growing up, I saw very few movies which had actresses with darker skin even though most of my country is brown.. Even now, fair skin is very valued and it’s become a synonym for beauty, girls are pressured by parents to maintain their skin, otherwise they won’t get married to nice boys.
    There is a lot we still need to change in the attitudes in society and I think it would help a little if mainstream movies represented the society and not impose false beauty narratives and further the existing biases.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! Colorism is so ingrained in communities of color and harmful, especially when movies continue to push that false standard. Besides Lupita Nyong’o and Viola Davis, I can’t think of any dark skin actresses in the U.S. that I’ve seen represented on screen. I completely agree with you, our society needs to do better.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I totally agree with you… Mainstream media definitely needs to step up and stop their push for what they decide is beautiful.. I hope v ll see the change at least in our time and see more representation and less colorism on screen..

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Just read this morning about Amandla Stenberg turning down a role in Black Panther for just the reasons you’ve discussed: she felt the role should go to a darker skinned actress. Frustrating how a biracial actress would go without a role in order for wider representation, but directors still tend to push for lighter actresses.
    Anyway, great post!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s