The Colour of Beauty: Exploring racism in the fashion industry

Films

The following is a guest post by Aisling Chin-Yee. It originally appeared on the Work For All website.

The Colour of Beauty is a short documentary about racial discrimination in the fashion industry.  Director Elizabeth St. Philip follows a young and fiercely talented Black model, Renee Thompson, as she navigates the fashion world as a visible minority.

This film asks: Why isn’t the multi-cultural society that we live in reflected in our magazines, on billboards and on the runways of fashion shows?  And who are the parties involved in this industry’s lack of diversity?  Does the answer lie somewhere in the back rooms of fashion magazines or in the offices of casting directors of fashion shows? Is it something that is discussed at advertising agencies, or between designers and modelling agencies?  Whatever the answer, the fact is that models of colour work less, and their chances of success are very low.

And what do you think? Work For All in partnership with Schema Magazine is launching a quest for your stories about how racism affects the world of fashion.  And, we are launching a live event with our other partner The Museum of Vancouver. Find out more about this contest and event at Schema Magazine.

Racism in the Fashion Industry

While making this film, we found many examples of racism in the fashion industry.  Take the L’Oreal scandal in France, where it was felt that the French woman would not be represented by a model without white skin.  Or the famous “Black issue” of Italian Vogue that made headline news in 2008 and sold out in 72 hours.  Some saw this as a turning point for Black models, but others considered it a poor apology for the lack of diversity at Milan’s fashion week and a token gesture to models of colour.

We also wanted to show the responses to bold moves by the fashion industry to be more culturally inclusive. For example, the Sikh Model who caused a buzz among fashion professionals and the Sikh community. There are also many in the industry who actively want to change the face of fashion, like Norwayne Anderson of NAM Agency in Toronto, and Dallas Logan, an acclaimed photographer who speaks candidly about why we do not see more Black women getting the high-end campaigns.

How Does this Racism Affect Young Women?

Many questions that we asked ourselves that did not make it into this short film.  Like, how do young girls of colour feel when they do not see their skin colour and their physical features celebrated as beautiful?  And when we do see a non-white woman spokesperson for major product campaigns, why is she so often a singer, or actress – someone with another role in the media (e.g. Beyonce, Queen Latifah, Rihanna)?

We knew it was important to hear from the models themselves – the women working and struggling in this industry who are not getting a chance to speak for themselves.  We are very proud to have talented Canadian model Renee Thompson, someone with drive and a passion for her work, be the main character of this film.

So what do you think – is there racism in the fashion industry? And in an industry that many dismiss as a frivolous and decadent, what discussion can we have around race and representation?  We hope you enjoy the film.