It seems that with globalization and multimedia reaching all parts of the world, that there would be far more ethnic diversity in the mainstream media, instead we still find that popular culture in the western world, despite a massive wave of immigration from Africa, Asia and South America, is still widely dominated by what is referred to as the “White face” of beauty.
The National Film Board of Canada, produced a series of short documentaries based on the theme of Racism in the Workplace. The film that I saw was called the Colour of Beauty, Racism in the Fashion industry, and focused around the battle of an already established and successful model Renee Thompson, in striving to become the next top face in the industry.
Before one judges this as a purely superficial battle since it takes place in the fashion industry, one must consider the unfortunate aspect that the fashion industry, contributes to culture and is also a reflection of it at the same time. Fashion does not always determine trends, but it certainly reflects them.
As someone who has worked in the film industry, though not directly the same as fashion one knows that there is always the token aspect of the business. There is an unofficial quota of how many Latinos you need, how many Asians you need and how many blacks you need, and then the rest is filled by the white majority of actors. In the fashion industry it is far more discriminatory, but one is trying to find out if that is by design.
My personal guess, is based on the story that was told through Renee’s eyes, and through the eyes of the film makers, that it is not directly outright, but rather a series of nudges from everyone in the industry who has a slight more preference for the eastern European white model. I make it clear, I do not blame the models themselves, because they don’t cast themselves, it’s the casting, designers, and marketers who determine this. When its just one nudge in favour of a white model its not significant, but when that nudge passes through multiple powerful people, it adds up significantly to put the visual minority model in a far more competitive position.
Through the film, Renee emphasizes two interesting things; the first is when the marketers and casting do decide to cast a model of a visual minority status, they often tend to have European-like facial features, such as larger eyes, thin lips, and longer noses as opposed to the majority of non-European features that others of their culture or race would have. Essentially, they want a black girl, who looks like a white girl, painted black. This also applies to the Latino models and Asian models.
There are some who would say to Renee, well dear, what do you expect? It’s the fashion industry after all. But one can’t help but wonder if the Fashion industry is a reflection of greater social concepts that we may try to be ignorant of willingly.
The question of Renee’s story, is not if the fashion industry is unconsciously racist, but why. It is likely, to my best guess, like before with the series of small nudges, that there seems to be a trend in the majority of the entertainment business to play it safe. Never wander too far from the established mainstream because of the fear of the backlash. This faces the gay community all the time when they are bombarded with billboards of heterosexual love while a man holding another man’s hand is still considered too taboo to be seen in many parts of the “liberal and equal” west.
Her struggle is against age old preconceptions of beauty that originated in Europe. Non European models are still labelled as exotic. Iconic black models like Grace Jones are known for their almost amazon-like qualities while their more elegant counterparts like Tyra Banks and Naomi Campbell show a conservative beauty. Asians are known for a submissive frailty that has permeated through old fashion culture. There are some intrepid designers and creative minds who are trying turn against this but its nonetheless difficult and an uphill climb. But why are these stereotypes still perpetuated?
Who will determine what changes? It is tough to say since the Fashion Industry, and Entertainment Industries are always subject to the trend and profits. The trend is more difficult to tell, but maybe it’s linked to the profits, and it’s we, the consumers who are the ultimate deciders on what is and is not decided. Will time tell? Well it hasn’t changed anything so far.
One has to remember that in this industry, because there are only so few spots for pure success, that the competition is fierce and casting directors, and designers only have so many spots and thus they reject the vast number of applicants submitted for each project. Rejection is constant in the industry, and it is rarely ever personal. It’s the nature of the business.
The entertainment business is one of the most superficial that has ever existed and it is based entirely on looks, but the interpretation of beauty is something that is entirely subjective. If Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, why aren’t the beholders represented?
Check out The Colour of Beauty below:
Submitted by: Chris Cheng .
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