Academy Award winning actress, Lupita Nyong'o proudly graces the cover of the new coffee table book Dark Girls. But the man behind the project, Bill Duke wonders if that's enough to combat the issue of colorism--a form of prejudice or discrimination based on one's skin color.
Duke, who created the NAACP Award-nominated documentary Dark Girls, which inspired the companion book, knows that colorism is a deeply entrenched issue part of the larger conversation about racism and mainstream representations of idealized beauty standards.
"Lupita can be either one of two things: a symbol of something that we pray for or the evidence of true change," he said. "I will have to see more evidence in terms of the numerous dark-skinned women getting more opportunities--not only over the next few months, but in the next few decades--in terms of the media appreciation of their beauty. My prayer is that this is a paradigm shift that we have yet to see."
In the meantime the issue of colorism remains prevalent from the numerous headlines accusing magazines of lightening the shade of dark-skinned celebrities to individuals undergoing the extreme act of skin bleaching. The book explores this topic through striking portraits by noted photographer, Barron Claiborne and the narrative of Shelia P. Moses conveying the stories of celebrities such as Vanessa Williams, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Judge Mablean Ephriam and over seventy-five other women embracing their dark skin.
"Bill and I both wanted people around the world to not only see the faces of the beautiful dark girls but we wanted the readers to hear their voices loud and clear," explained Moses on the book's combination of photos and text. "There is so much pain in their voices but there is also joy. A regular book could not deliver that message."
And despite Duke's hesitant optimism as to whether or not more dark-skinned women in the mainstream such as Nyong'o will make a lasting difference, he still hopes the book can help more women learn the importance of self-love.
"The women in this book all had the same message which was empowerment--you must learn to love yourself first. I hope this book is a tool women can use in the future whenever they are bullied or assaulted to say 'your opinion of me is a lie and here is proof.'"
Marlo Hampton wants young women to 'Glam It Up'
Also looking to spread a message of self-love is reality TV star and Atlanta socialite Marlo Hampton. While she is known for her boisterous appearances on Bravo TV's "Real Housewives of Atlanta" there is a sensitive side to the fashionista evidenced by her giving back initiatives such as Glam It Up.
Now in its fourth year the program focuses on young women in the foster care system between the ages of 13 and 17. Hampton provides the teens with mentorship, glam inspired makeover sessions and cultural outings. The inspiration for the project comes from her own background as a foster child having grown up in five different homes.
"I will always do something with foster kids because I know their story," she said. "I know how it is getting abused, having your mama on drugs, and buying food with food stamps. I know it hurts but you gotta get over it and make your dreams a reality. I didn't envision myself being where I am today. There was no one telling me the world is yours. So I pray that I make a difference in their lives."
For more information on Glam It Up and Hampton's other giving back initiatives click here.
The weekly column On the "A" w/Souleo covers the intersection of the arts, culture entertainment and philanthropy in Harlem and beyond and is written by Souleo, founder and president of event/media content production company Souleo Enterprises LLC.