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Could Michelle Obama Help End Colorism in Hollywood?

Could First Lady End Hollywood Colorism?

Recently I had the pleasure of moderating a conversation hosted by New York Women in Film and Television and the Fox Broadcasting Co. on the issue of diversity in Hollywood, particularly in terms of casting. The panel included some of the industry's leaders on the subject, among them film executive Zola Mashariki, who has worked on films such as The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and The Antwone Fisher Story; Dante Di Loreto, president of the production company responsible for Glee; Shana Waterman, a programming executive who has overseen The Mindy Project and Family Guy; and Seth Yanklewitz, who has cast major projects such as The Hangover and the hit series New Girl. The industry veterans spoke candidly of the challenges that still exist in Hollywood regarding making the entire industry more diverse, challenges they have all confronted through their efforts to make diversity a priority in their projects.

While the entire conversation was enlightening and at times inspiring, one moment was particularly memorable. A Black woman with a dark complexion spoke of how rare it is to see someone who looks like her on-screen. Acknowledging that there is still room for improvement, the executives nevertheless pointed to the successes of various darker-skinned Black actresses, from Gabourey Sidibe to rising star Emayatzy Corinealdi.

But despite these successes, one inescapable fact remains: Rarely is an actress cast as a romantic interest who has a darker complexion than her leading man. Think of any classic film with a Black leading man — Boomerang, The Best Man, Love Jones, Brown Sugar — or even nonclassic films, such as Hitch. There appears to be a formula: Black male paired with lighter-skinned Black female or nonBlack female.

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