The Colour of Beauty
17 minutes, an NFB presentation, in conjunction with the St. Albert Public Library's Black Film Watch Parties series
Directed by Elizabeth St. Philip
Screening co-hosted by librarian Geoff Manderscheid and by Marilyn McGreer, member of the African and African Descendents Friendship Club of St. Albert
7 p.m. on Fri., Feb. 12
Attendance is free for the Zoom event. Please visit sapl.libcal.com/event/3593066 to register for this event.
The last screening in the series to be held starting at 7 p.m. on Feb. 26.
"You're constantly under this scrutiny of something you can't do anything about. This is the skin I was given. This is who I look like. This is what I look like. I'm sorry."
That is some of what Toronto-based international model Renee Thompson had to say back in 2010, as was recorded in Elizabeth St. Philip's short documentary The Colour of Beauty. Thompson's words about racism in the fashion industry then still ring true today, at least as far as Marilyn McGreer is concerned. McGreer, a published academic author and a member of the Africans and African Descendents Friendship Club, is hosting a virtual screening of the short but succinct film.
Her review of the film is great.
"Can I be brutally honest? Oh, God, I was so mad," she began, offering a hearty laugh. "I think that's probably to be expected, right? I just thought, 'This is so nuts but it is it is what it is.'"
The documentary reveals Thompson's struggles to even get work. Time and time again, the Jamaican-born Black woman is told designers are only hiring white models. It shows some quick stats from a 2008 survey about models working during New York's Fashion Week: only 13 per cent in total are Black, Asian or Latina.
One scene especially got under McGreer's skin: a casting director talks about how it's important to find Black models that "look like white girls dipped in chocolate."
"Wow, that's quite a statement."
The film is only 17 minutes but it really cuts right to the heart of the systemic racism – not to mention the inherent sexism – that the fashion industry has built itself upon.
It is being screened on Friday evening as part of the St. Albert Public Library's Black Film Watch Parties, a series of events held in conjunction with Black History Month. Anyone can watch the documentary (that was produced as part of the National Film Board of Canada's Work For All series) and then participate in a virtual Q&A afterward.
If Thompson were to attend, she might repeat one of her first comments on the fashion industry from the documentary: "I think sometimes it is so blatantly racist, it's disgusting."
McGreer would probably agree with her. She has a lot more to say on the subject, too.
"I am a woman of colour. I came to Alberta when I was 11, 12. Our neighbours were friendly. Some of them were also foreigners themselves. They were from different parts of Europe coming here and at that time, Canada had opened up for tradespeople. We were here because my dad was a carpenter. He brought us over and we were just children. Going to school was interesting because we would be the only 'coloured' – as they said in that way back then – we were referred to as coloured people. My hair was different. I had bigger lips, nose, everything. People sometimes (would say), 'oh, can I touch your hair?' No, don't touch it. I think maybe that's why I wanted to host this particular film. I'm not a fashion model but I related to her experience."