Does Hollywood Still Have a Brown Paper Bag Test?

When it comes to colorism, “Precious” is still the same old, same old.

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Flickr.com / Lara604

I’ve been accused a time or two of being a little too color-struck, reading too deeply into decisions that could have been made based on pure happenstance. Yes, I rooted for the Jiggaboos in Spike Lee’s School Daze, and sure, I happen to find Idris Elba a helluva lot more attractive than Chris Brown, but I am no colorist. I wish, however, that I could say the same for Hollywood executives who cast black movies.

The new movie Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire sheds some much needed light on socioeconomic issues that haven’t changed much since the 1996 release of Sapphire’s book, Push. But the film’s casting also sheds light on how little color issues have changed since the Jiggaboos and the Wannabes first had it out in Madame Re-Re’s Hair Salon a few decades ago.

Call it overanalyzing, but is it a coincidence that Precious’ dark-skinned mother is physically and verbally abusive, her dark-skinned father is a drug addict who rapes her, and the main character herself is a dark-skinned 16-year-old mother of two? Meanwhile, the teacher, social worker and nurse who uplift and bring positivity into her life are all light-skinned.

Black entertainment has made little progress in the last century when it comes to colorism. Both dark- and light-skinned blacks continue to be cast in roles that perpetuate stereotypes within our own community. Light-skinned people are good; dark-skinned people are bad. Light-skinned people live comfortably; dark-skinned people live in the projects. Don’t believe that colorism is still seeping into our psyches? Read Monique Fields’ piece about her 4-year-old daughter who told her, “Brown people drive old cars.”

Most of the mainstream black entertainers are light-skinned because the Wannabes are still favored over the Jiggaboos. Chocolate folks don’t get much love, even when black people are producing the films and television roles. Pretty much every other Tyler Perry film has a dark-skinned male aggressor and light-skinned male savior (Shemar Moore vs. Steve Harris in Diary of a Mad Black Woman and Blair Underwood vs. Boris Kodjoe in Madea’s Family Reunion). When a character gets replaced on a sitcom, their complexion usually gets lighter (from Janet Hubert-Whitten to Daphne Maxwell-Reid on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Jazz Raycole to Jennifer Freeman on My Wife and Kids). And the biggest black entertainers right now could probably all pass a brown paper bag test (Beyoncé, Rihanna, Halle Berry, Mariah Carey, Tyra Banks, Alicia Keys).

If darker-skinned actors can’t get decent portrayal in a film like Precious, well, where can they?

Jada F. Smith is a writer and intern at The Root.