Shadeism, like any other ism, presents itself as an act of discrimination. Defined as a form of skin tone bias that identifies groups and individuals based on the degree of their skin pigmentation, shadeism affects many girls and women around the world today. However, despite its prevalence in society, this issue is rarely the subject of discussion.
In February 2010, director Nayani Thiyagarajah and her team decided to create a short documentary discussing the problem of shadeism through the stories of women and girls affected by the issue. The short documentary demonstrates the power of storytelling and the influence it has on changing societal norms. What started as a final university film project at Ryerson, eventually fueled a worldwide discussion. After releasing the short, titled “Shadesim: Digging Deeper” in 2010, Thiyagarajah received countless responses from women around the world who detailed their reactions, feelings and personal accounts of the discrimination they continually suffer from.
Thiyagarajah explains that when she was growing up, the importance of being light-skinned was implicitly understood – since the issue was unnamed, it was easier to ignore, suppress or normalize. She was never personally a victim to this form of discrimination, but interacting with her three-year-old niece shed light on how pressing the issue actually is. Thiyagarajah’s young niece has already wrapped her head around the connection that society has made between beauty and skin colour. While holding a peach skinned Barbie doll, her niece, in pointing to her skin, explained that she is not beautiful because of her dark skin. This conversation sparked the beginning of Thiyagarajah’s mission to reveal the influence shadeism has on the lives of women of colour.
Today, the original short created by the Shadeism team is on its way to becoming a feature length documentary; due to the overwhelming success of the short, the full length feature film has the potential for worldwide impact. Through the financial support garnered by their viewers and supporters, the Shadeism team is able to tackle three things in the coming year: the expenses of post-production, the development of a shadeism-focused curriculum, and self-care toolkit. The campaign can be found online at indiegogo and continues to generate funds through donations from across the globe. However, Thiyagarajah asks that if people cannot support financially, they support by simply spreading the word.
Thiyagarajah dreams of a world where her niece does not have to feel that her dark skin makes her inferior. The first step to making her dream come true is initiating discussion on an issue that has been suppressed for years. By supporting this campaign, another ‘ism’ becomes recognized by more people and will hopefully be eradicated from society.