Francesca Andre combined her experiences with colorism and passion for storytelling into Charcoal, an award-winning film which puts the spotlight on healing from prejudice, discrimination, and preferential treatment based on the skin tone, facial features, and hair textures among people of the same race. Now, her short film is making its way to the National Museum of African Art Smithsonian Institution as part of Skin Deep exhibit: Colorism across the African diaspora.
Black Enterprise caught up with Andre to learn more about her inspiration behind the film and hopes for changing the conversation about beauty in the black community.
BE: What inspired you to produce a film about internal colorism? Can you describe your personal experiences with this topic?
I wanted to tell a story about healing, about women redefining their own beauty and taking back their power despite the pervasive effects of colorism. I wrote Charcoal as I recalled these painful experiences and events with colorism growing up in Haiti. I was made aware of my skin tone and hair texture at a very young age. I noticed that people with lighter skin were praised and considered beautiful compared to others with darker skin. My grandmother joked that I got my “bad hair” from my father’s side of the family because her side of the family had very long and curly hair. While these conversations were common and seemed normal at the time, they slowly begin to erode one’s self-esteem and self-worth. I realized that I had internalized these toxic beliefs in my teenage years throughout my adulthood, so I had to unlearn all these toxic misconceptions about beauty, hair, and its relation to one’s worth. I am happy to say that I now have a very healthy relationship with my skin and hair.
BE: In your experiences, what are the impacts of internalized colorism, particularly when it comes to getting ahead in your career or managing healthy relationships?
As a woman photographer working to become a cinematographer, racism and sexism are more of a detriment to my career than colorism. I also think my experiences with internal colorism provide an opportunity for me as a storyteller to reverse the effects by changing the light skin vs. dark skin narrative. Representation in film is important and is a powerful tool to bring attention to these issues.
BE: Charcoal spotlights the fact that beliefs about skin color are passed down in families. In prior interviews, you’ve said “Despite the #melaninpoppin and #blackgirlmagic hashtag movements meant to uplift all shades of blackness, there’s still work to be done. When it comes to colorism, what do you think we as a community need more of or less of?
We need to talk more about it. It’s dirty, it’s taboo and it’s destructive. Just because it’s not always right in your face doesn’t mean it’s not happening. These movements are great at bringing issues to light, but there are also many communities that are not aware of these conversations. Today there are very popular Internet figures in my community who are selling bleaching creams. As long as “light skin” continues to be the standard of beauty, women will continue to bleach their skin as a way to adapt and survive. However, if we celebrate every hue and hair texture, not just the 3C curly hair, we might be able to change minds and change the way that people perceive themselves and their beauty. America can take the lead in this plight.
BE: What are the top two messages you want people to take away from the film?
Healing takes time. These beliefs didn’t happen overnight and it will take time for you to unlearn the lies that you were taught and have internalized about the color of your skin, your hair texture, your voice, your existence as a woman of color. Self-love is a hell of a weapon! Use it, practice it, apply it, and pass it on to your friends, colleagues, and children. Break the cycle!