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Skin (2019)—NigeriaSkin (2019)—Nigeria

What defines beauty, and in particular what makes for black beauty? This is the question that the British Nollywood actress Beverly Naya explores by traveling to her home country of Nigeria. This one-hour Netflix documentary focuses on skin complexion as a marker of beauty, and in particular the elusive quest of many black people for lighter skin. The skin bleaching industry, we learn, is a $23 billion a year industry, and Naya introduces us to several of its proponents and customers. She also interviews a cosmetic dermatologist, a photographer, people in the local markets in Lagos, a beauty entrepreneur, and, in what I thought was the most powerful part of the film, children at a local school.  One little girl, about ten years old, expresses how she wants lighter skin. She admits that she is black, but insists that she is not "black black." When asked how she came to this idea at such an early age, she has no answer. By the end of the film Naya has traveled to her ancestral home and the house of her grandmother. This film is a simple beginning to the complicated racist discrimination of "colorism," but it only goes so far. For a deeper treatment, I commend chapter 9 in Ibram Kendi's book How to Be an Antiracist (2019) called "Color" (pages 107–121).

Dan Clendenin:

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