Film Review – Skin

Skin is an emotional documentary that is meant to explore the beauty in the different shades of Black, but ends up focusing on the negative perceptions of beauty held by, and towards dark-skinned women, mostly in Nigeria and Ghana. 

Produced and narrated by Nollywood Actress, Beverly Naya, skin demonstrates the effects of visual imagery in shaping the perception of beauty in society.

Beverly and her camera crew take us on a deeply emotional journey through a series of interviews with various people that work in the visual arts and beauty industry, from film to makeup artist and beauty product vendors. 

The overall theme of the documentary was pain, and each dark skinned woman interviewed still harboured so much of it too.  As each woman narrated her experience, they would shed tears, demonstrating the effects colorism still has on their self esteem till date.

With the exception of Bobrisky, a popular Nigerian Transgender woman and internet celebrity, the film doesn’t feature any dark-skinned cis-male affected by colourism and we all know there are plenty who use skin bleaching products in West Africa.  Instead,  in the interview with Mudi Yahaya, a conceptual artist and photographer, we are given an history lesson on the role early photography has played in shaping dark-skin as unattractive. Mudi was very informative and spoke from an authoritative position but it just would have been good to see the perspective of an affected dark-skinned male as well. 

As  expected of a film on colorism, the colour grading had to be very good, which it was.  The portrayal of dark-skin complexion was well lighted and appeared attractive. Kudos to the cinematographer, Muhamed Attah and director, Daniel Etim Effiong, an accomplished actor in his own rights as well. I particularly liked the close-up shots and the slow motion camera movements. 

By getting the colour grading  right, Skin successfully contributes to the narrative that Black is in fact beautiful.

One of my favorite scenes was shot towards the end in Beverly’s home town of Igbuzo where she is shot in a soliloquy against a backdrop walking between dilapidated buildings and sounds of an horn as she spoke her prose. The combination of visuals, sound and movement in this scene was deeply moving in an inexplicable manner. 

Overall, Skin is a very well made documentary, with great visuals but it stayed a bit too much on the surface level when it could have perhaps delved a bit deeper at times. 

Although it touches on a number of new topics like the history of photography, and broaches on locally made skin bleaching/lightening products, it failed to explain or explore the underlying causes of colorism and widespread acceptance in Africa to stir up a greater discussion.   

Skin promised so much at first, but ends up being a light watch and just a feel-good-about-yourself documentary with a tinge of feminism to encourage black women of all shades to love the skin they are in, and rightly so.  Then again, with all that is happening in the media right now with sexual assault and black women feeling unprotected by society at large, maybe this is just what black women need right now, a film that speaks directly to their pain.

Available on Netflix

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