This Animated Film About Black Women Takes on Western Beauty Standards

A new short is driving a much-needed conversation about colorism.
Apr 3, 2015·
Jamilah King is a TakePart staff writer covering the intersection of race/ethnicity, poverty, gender, and sexuality.

Here’s a sobering statistic: 77 percent of Nigerian women have used skin-lightening products. That number, which was initially released by the World Health Organization and then cited by researchers at Stanford, is the highest percentage of women using skin lightening products in the world. It’s also what drives Yellow Fever, a new animated short by Kenyan filmmaker Ng’endo Mukii.

The film is a smart and searing look at Mukii’s own struggle to understand how toxic Western beauty standards are for black women. Colorism—the preference, even within communities of color, for lighter skin—is a particularly noxious issue. It doesn’t just affect women in Africa; many Indian women are obsessed with skin-lightening creams.

In the United States, black women spend more than $7.5 billion annually on beauty products, including items to straighten or lighten their hair. Studies have found that lighter-skinned people are preferred by whites for jobs—and are even given lighter prison sentences. Which helps put the sometimes deadly use of skin lightening in context.

Using recollections from her childhood and interviews with her mother, sister, and niece, Mukii artfully shifts responsibility from the women themselves to the never-ending chase for whiteness.

The film was released last week and is opening a new—and much-needed—conversation about skin color.