SA director brings African perspective to Light Girls documentary


Following on the success of Dark Girls, a documentary by US filmmaker Bill Duke,
which explored the complexities and prejudices faced by dark-skinned woman,
Light Girls uncovers the struggles of women with lighter complexions, who live in
a society filled with double standards.

Duke had met and formed a friendship with South African producer Themba
Sibeko while he was living in New York in the 1990s, and believed that the
diverse racial culture which exists in South Africa could offer an interesting
perspective to the story he wanted to tell. So he invited Sibeko to collaborate on
Light Girls by capturing the stories of some of South Africa’s light-skinned

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In February 2014 actress Lupita Nyong’o delivered a speech at the 7th Annual
Essence Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon in which she explained how
moved she had been by a fan’s letter. A young girl had written to tell her that
she had chosen not to use a skin-lightening cream promoted by Cameroonian
pop star, Dencia, after being inspired by Nyong’o’s pride in her natural dark
beauty. Nyong’o went on to say that she too had felt insecure about the colour
of her skin until she had seen South Sudanese British model, Alek Wek, reach

While the world praised Nyong’o for creating awareness about the inclusivity of
black beauty in Western society, Dencia launched a vicious Twitter campaign
against the Kenyan actress, which was fuelled further when Nyong’o became
the first black ambassador for international beauty brand Lancome.

This story not only highlights the racial prejudices which exist among women of
colour but sheds light on the impact which social media has begun to play in
modern society. Sibeko believes that the internet now allows any person to be a
publisher and that it is important to explore the pressures and complexities of
issues which surface on and off this platform for public expression.

“The dynamic between culture and society is important and there is a need to
inform people as to what’s happening in their own world, in terms of what’s
okay and what’s not okay,’ says Sibeko, who adds that low self-esteem relating
to skin colour is very much a global problem. “There is still an issue as to how
light-skinned woman are perceived in society, both in South Africa and the


Sibeko spent a week filming and interviewing a range of light-skinned women in
Johannesburg, a melting pot of different cultures and complexions, during March
2014. South Africa is somewhat unique in that there are a number of sub-
cultures under the light-skinned umbrella, which bare different labels.

Sibeko was able to explore what these labels mean in the context of both South
Africa and the USA. He recalls the story of one South African coloured (mixed
race) woman who went to school in the USA and subsequently married a white

“In America she was introduced and seen as an exotic looking woman but when
they came home to South Africa, things changed. Her husband noticed she was
the lightest skinned woman in her black family and couldn’t accept it. As a result,
their relationship fell apart,’ comments Sibeko.

Similarly Lebo Mashile, a South African poet, performer and actress whom Sibeko
interviewed and refers to as “lightning in a bottle’, was perceived to be of Latino
ethnicity while living in the USA, a far cry from her Sotho origins.

The colour divide

In uncovering stories about race, identity and the perception of beauty, Sibeko
was intrigued as to the contexts in which these issues appear.
“One of the major places in which light women face prejudices in South Africa is
in the workplace. Here there is a level of prejudice because of how they are
seen by other African women. Because of their perceived beauty they are
constantly asked: “How did you get here?’ or “Did you sleep with the boss?’ On
the flip side of that they are assumed to just be filling a quota,’ says Sibeko.

In the USA, Sibeko believes that there is resentment among women of different
skin tones because of how light-skinned women are promoted in the media, he
says: “Light skinned women are put on a pedestal, which leads to darker-
skinned women being resentful sometimes. For example, athletes are seen to
gravitate towards marrying light-skinned women. If you look at the women
featured in Hip Hop music videos, they are predominantly light-skinned.’
Sibeko hopes to inform and educate audiences on the challenges which light-
skinned women experience by bringing a South African angle to the
documentary and concludes: “It’s tragic that someone may think another person
has it better, when really they are struggling through their own injustices.’


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