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Why Are Dark-Skinned Black Women Portrayed Negatively in the Media?

Grace loves to write commentaries on psycho-cultural and sociocultural dynamics in their myriad forms.

Alek Wek

Alek Wek

The Often Negative Portrayal of Dark-Skinned Black Women in the Media

There are more Black actors and actresses in Hollywood today than in any time in media history. Black actors and actresses have made enormous strides in the field of entertainment. More exciting, challenging, and non-race-specific roles are available to Black actors and actresses now than in previous history.

However, if one observes very closely, there are very, very few dark-skinned Black actresses that have notable movie and television roles. The minute few dark-skinned Black actresses who have movie and television roles are often cast in the following roles:

  • The asexual superwoman
  • The thug queen/princess
  • The long-suffering girlfriend/wife
  • The jolly take-it-all girl/woman
  • The sidekick
  • The angry, embittered girl/woman
  • The tough, no tears girl/woman
  • The put-upon girl/woman

If dark-skinned Black actresses are casted into atypical roles, i.e. roles of glamorous, sexual, and high-status women of class, network executives usually remove them to be replaced by lighter-skinned Black actresses who are deemed less threatening and more palatable to the viewing public.

Denzel Washington's Advice for His Daughter

Denzel Washington, Academy Award–winning and in-demand actor, even advised his daughter, Olivia, who is dark skinned, that it will be a tenuous road to success in Hollywood. He advised his daughter that her skin color will make it more difficult for her to succeed in the business. He indicated that his daughter has to be adept in her acting skills in order to succeed in Hollywood.

Mr. Washington held up Viola Davis, a dark-skinned Black actress, as a role model. He informed his daughter that Ms. Davis has the skills to be an enduring actress and that was what the former should concentrate on. He told her that she should not aspire to be one of the "pretty girls" for their acting shelf life is limited.

Examples of Limited Roles for Dark-Skinned Black Actresses

Mr. Washington aptly and truthfully portended how difficult it is for dark-skinned Black actresses to succeed in Hollywood.


In the movie about the songstress Nina Simone, a light-skinned actress, Zoe Saldana, was cast in the leading role. There was mass protest regarding the selection of Ms. Saldana for the leading role. Many people believe that it would have been more authentic if a dark-skinned Black actress was selected for the role. However, the casting director did not see it that way. Saldana later apologized for taking the role.

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

Dark-skinned Black actresses have a difficult time obtaining prime acting roles. They are viewed as somewhat unnoteworthy for such roles. For example, in the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air television series, the character of Vivian Banks was portrayed by Janet Hubert, a dark-skinned Black actress, from the 1990–3 seasons.

For whatever reason, network executives believed that a dark-skinned Black actress was not right for the role of an upscale housewife of a judge. Ms. Hubert was summarily let go, and a lighter-skinned actress (Daphne Maxwell Reid) was hired to replace Ms. Hubert. Ms. Reid was selected for the part as being lighter-skinned was deemed more palatable and a more fitting image of the upscale housewife of a judge.

New Jack City

In the 1991 movie New Jack City, there was a strict dichotomy in the portrayals of characters by Vanessa A. Williams, a dark-skinned Black actress, and Michael Michele, a light-skinned Black actress. Ms. Williams was slated to portray a character who could be described as a combination of the angry woman and thug princess while Ms. Michele's character was portrayed as the poor little rich girl.


In the 2009 movie Notorious, the character portrayed by Julia Pace Mitchell, a dark-skinned Black actress, was the long-suffering girlfriend of the title character who had a child by him. Although Biggie's character professed to love Jan's character, he never married her although she had his child. The Biggie's character instead married a lighter-skinned character whom he deemed more suitable.

School Daze

Dark-skinned Black actresses were also slated to portray somewhat negative roles in the 1988 movie School Daze. While the lighter-skinned Black female characters were portrayed as classy, happy, sexual, and upwardly mobile, the darker-skinned Black female characters were portrayed as angry, embittered, somewhat asexual, and lower class. They were further portrayed in the movie as being somewhat unattractive and being dateless on Friday nights. The only redeeming qualities to their characters were that they had high integrity and highly interested in education and Black culture.

Deliver Us From Eva

Gabrielle Union, a dark-skinned Black actress, portrayed Eva in the movie Deliver Us From Eva. The character Eva was the asexual superwoman. Although Eva was an upwardly mobile professional, she was portrayed as being domineering and interfering without a boyfriend. However, it was decided by Eva's brothers-in-law that she must have a boyfriend in order to get her out of their lives. The movie portrayed Eva in some of the typical roles for the dark-skinned Black woman-the asexual superwoman who is a domineering shrew. The movie never portrayed Eva's more vulnerable side at all.

Breakin' All the Rules

Ms. Union portrayed another negative character in the 2004 movie Breakin' All the Rules in which she played a physical therapist who was slightly psycho (a take on the angry woman) while Bianca Lawson, a lighter-skinned Black actress portrayed a take-charge fashion model who dumped one of the film's characters.

Ugly Betty

In the television series Ugly Betty, Ms. Union portrayed an embittered psychotic woman.

Negative Perceptions of Skin Color Need to Stop

To summarize, dark-skinned Black actresses seldom, if ever, get the glamorous, sexy, and/or high powered roles than lighter-skinned Black actresses obtain. Dark-skinned Black actresses are often cast into more lower class, brutish, or thuggish roles because network executives believe that this portrayal is more believable to the viewing public.

A sociologist did studies on the perception of color skin and the sociologist found that both Blacks and Caucasians perceived lighter-skinned Blacks as cultured, educated, intelligent, attractive, and upwardly mobile while darker-skinned Blacks are perceived more negatively as thugs, lower class, unattractive, dirty, and ghetto. It is time that this perception stop and to recognize the talent of dark-skinned Black actresses and to give them decent roles.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2010 Grace Marguerite Williams


Carolina on October 29, 2016:

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Grace Marguerite Williams (author) from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York on July 02, 2016:

Thank you for stopping by and responding.

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Carolina on June 05, 2016:

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de on November 16, 2013:

arker skinned black women are seen as "more of a threat"?? when dark skinned black males are abundant and get good roles ie Denzel Washington. There has to be something else at play here.

Grace Marguerite Williams (author) from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York on November 04, 2013:

Thank you Sebastian, corrected it. Also thank you for stopping by and responding.

sebastian on November 04, 2013:

Bianca Lawson* is the name of the young woman in, "breaking all the rules" but good article.

Levertis Steele from Southern Clime on September 20, 2013:

Many people are just point-blank ignorant. Weak, easy-to-brainwash minds are made every day.

Look at various paintings, statues, and other human likenesses, even descriptive writings, and behold each period's versions of beautiful women. The Middle Ages, Medieval, flaunted their fat, flat-chested women. Their faces were pudgy and their eyes were often browless. They were what today's standards would call homely. They also looked hard and masculine. There were no botox, estrogen treatments, facials, and plastic surgery then.

Another period boasted beautiful women, their version, with bustles that made them look as if they were hauling wagons instead of butts. They looked very much like the Hottentot venus. I am not poking fun. I am just pointing out one period's version of pretty. Whoever said, "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder" was a sharp person. There is something mentally wrong with a person who tries to convince all that certain people are ugly. It is such a dumb, careless, childish, inconsiderate, sinful thing to do.

The average pretty women are loaded with unnatural body jobs that alter their appearances. Have you ever seen a snapshot of a celebrity without her makeup? She usually looks common. That is not to say that she is not pretty. I am saying that most of these touted beauties are made-up Barbie dolls--unnecessarily exaggerated.

People can be demonic and just love to downsize Black women. Black women stay on their minds, and that is interesting. The problem is certainly within the worrier. I say let them have all of the worries they can handle. That is their choice and right.

Nisha on September 12, 2013:

I understand the message that is trying to be pointed out in this article however, some portions of this article are false. Janet was not "let go" because of her shade. How ridiculous would that be for producers to wait 3 years to make that decision? Janet voluntarily left Fresh Prince because of her confrontations with Will Smith. She was quoted many times about the incident and she was also interviewed on TV One's Life After.

Corey Pickersgill on July 25, 2013:

[quote]8192 characters left.[/quote]

Regards. Loads of stuff!.

Kudos, An abundance of information!

Grace Marguerite Williams (author) from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York on March 24, 2013:

Thank you for your response. Yes, share this hub. Thank you again for stopping by.

Edwin G Bourne from Atlanta, GA on March 24, 2013:

Nice article....I'm happy that we have an outlet to voice our opinion on issues that concern the black community. I took it upon my self to share your article on my Black Urban Media Facebook fan page. http://www.facebook.com/BlackUrbanMedia

Grace Marguerite Williams (author) from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York on March 23, 2013:

Thank you for your response. Keep writing those intriguing hubs. I shall read them when I can.

Frank Atanacio from Shelton on March 23, 2013:

Williams this is a strong fight.. and perhaps I agree with you... I never put two and two together.. Fresh Prince..I thought she left to persure bigger projects.. hmm I personally love Jada Pinkett because of her strength..maybe darker women come off as stronger yeah? I dunno but this was a very challenging hub my friend bless you

Credence2 from Florida (Space Coast) on March 21, 2013:

Ditto, GM, the pleasure is all mine. Interested in seeing what else you have in your library

Grace Marguerite Williams (author) from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York on March 20, 2013:

Credence, what you have said is so true. Dark skinned Black women are seldom hired for acting roles and if they are hired, it is often in negative, so-called ghetto and urban roles in films and television. Dark-skinned Black women are oftentimes viewed as "the other" in society and in Hollywood. They are marginalized and told that they are not as beautiful as Caucasian and other Black women, an example of this is the movie documentary , Dark Girls, by Bill Duke and other producer. It is so sad that light is still considered to be beautiful and right even in the 21st century. Thank you for stopping by Credence and have a Blessed Night.

Credence2 from Florida (Space Coast) on March 20, 2013:

Great article, this problem is systemic and appears almost everywhere. People in the Caribbean who are dark as coal will deny that they are black. It manifests itself in many ways and consciously and subconsciously the subtle message is going out that white is good and black is bad. Remember the llittle black girls who were asked their preference between a white doll and a black one? Too often black people themselves are brainwashed into acknowleging the caucasian standard of beauty as the only one. I am reminded of the role of Grace Slick in the Bond film "A View to a Kill" 1985.

Makes me wonder about the sinister forces that shape what we see and to what extent this kind of power and influence is touching other aspects of the lives of people.

haillsaicycle on March 07, 2013:

I used to obtain on top of existence although lately I've built up the amount of resistance.

Grace Marguerite Williams (author) from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York on March 05, 2013:

Levertis, you are succinctly correct in your analysis. We are indeed masterpieces and anyone who thinks differently is his/her loss.

Levertis Steele from Southern Clime on March 05, 2013:

There is much ignorance across the board of humanity on every level. Black women with high self-esteem do not waste time worrying about the negativity about their blackness because they are smart enough to know that the creator of Black women did not make any mistakes. He created a masterpiece!

Allpeople Gifts on November 30, 2012:


There is actually no such thing as a so-called "Light-Skinned

Black" person ... but rather ... such individuals and groups

are actually people who are of a 'Multi-Generational

Multiracially-Mixed' (MGM-Mixed) Lineage that some may

have been pressured or encouraged to ignore or downplay.




People of Mixed-Race lineage should NOT feel pressured to

'identify' according to any standards other than one's own.




The legal -application of the racist-'One-Drop Rule'

(ODR) was banned in the U.S. way back in 1967.













Listed below are related Links of 'the facts' of the histories

of various Mixed-Race populations found within the U.S.:





There is no proof that a 'color-based slave hierarchy'

(or that 'color-based social-networks') ever existed

as common entities -- within the continental U.S.






It was the 'Rule of Matriliny (ROM) -- [a.k.a. 'The Rule of Partus'

(ROP)] -- and NOT the racist-'One-Drop Rule' (ODR) -- that was

used to 'create more enslaved people' on the continental U.S.


This is because the chattel-slavery system that was

once found on the antebellum-era, continental U.S.

was NOT "color-based" (i.e. "racial") -- but rather

-- it was actually "mother-based" (i.e. 'matrilineal').




There were many ways (and not solely the sexual assault

and sexual exploitation of the women-of-color) in which

'white' lineage entered the familial bloodlines of

enslaved-people found on the continental U.S.








An 'Ethnic' category is NOT the

same thing as a "Race" category:






Other Topics:











Levertis Steele from Southern Clime on March 29, 2012:

Look at the way people's brains worked across the decades. In the 50's and 60's, black men were downsized, objects of severe discrimination, and even lost their lives because of it. Look at them now. They are upsized, considered handsome because they are Black, But Black women's black is ugly. Black women are considered undesirable and masculine by some. People can be inteligent, but they also exercise their rudeness, ignorance, evil, and stupidity. What's handsome or beautiful changes like fahions.

Levertis Steele from Southern Clime on January 16, 2012:

What society thinks about people is portrayed in the media. When Asians were limping around like confused nuts preparing the leading man's food, there were not too many complaints, but let it happen to a White or Black! All the devil's living room breaks loose. The funny thing is that Blacks and Whites participate in their own destruction. When they are portrayed negatively, they are the ones posing. If a movie is about stupid Blacks or Whites, Blacks or Whites play the stupid parts. Ironic. We cause our own demise and get paid big bucks. Put dollar signs in a human being's eyes, and he will kill his mother.

Grace Marguerite Williams (author) from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York on December 13, 2011:

You are quite welcome indeed. God bless you and thank you for stopping by.

Mildred Lucille Fraser from Bloomfield, CT on December 13, 2011:

This was a very interesting article. We are living in a world full of negative views in our society. What will we do when we reach Heaven where there is no color? Your research and points are very well documented. It is a lot to think about. Thanks for allowing God to use you to shed light upon this situation.

Gasherrie on December 01, 2011:

For black people who are racist...they shld knw they make fun of themselves...the shld read Kola Boof...thanx to her i got interested to read more on this

Emmeaki from Brooklyn, NY on March 22, 2011:

Unfortunately this happens in real life as well. I've seen situations where average or unattractive light-skinned women were preferred over beautiful dark-skinned ones. We need to fix reality as well as the fantasy world of Hollywood.

Grace Marguerite Williams (author) from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York on February 27, 2011:

Good point, iddant.

Leah, UnEarth'd! from Washington, DC on February 26, 2011:

Sadly, this happens within our own race. But, until we whole-heartedly accept and love all that is wonderful about ourselves as a people (the skin, the hair, etc.)then, the media will continue to typecast us in the manner in which they THINK we'd like to see ourselves portrayed.

affirmations from Savannah, Georgia on February 19, 2011:

Thank you so much for your insight and careful examination of a very important topic.

Mark Monroe from Dover De on February 10, 2011:

Good article

LADYGIRL on February 02, 2011:

I love it, you have gotten really down to the point. This is an issue that has to be address. People has to recognize that black is colors of all hues. However let me tell you we are all black (Afro-Americans). I hope to talk with you through e-mail soon.

Che on December 12, 2010:

While I agree with the problem of dark-skinned women being portrayed negatively in the media, the original Vivian Banks was NOT replaced due to the color of her skin. There are MANY sources which documented poor chemistry between her and other cast members. Also, Biggie's story is a TRUE one. Therefore, I believe it's a mirror that's being held up to the black community - not Hollywood creating some fictional bias. Going even further, that was the point of the movie school dayze: to hold a mirror up to the black community who so commonly practiced the paperbag test when accepting women of color.

While I agree there is a problem with the way Black women are portrayed in the media, there is a lack of valid facts in your article. Please stop educating people incorrectly. Hold on, wait, here's a thought... is it possible that Hollywood isn't as racist as black people are?

By the way, I'm a black women living in Hollywood pursuing an acting career. My complexion is that of Gabrielle Union's maybe a little darker.

This is only me opinion, but my opinion is backed by YEARS of research - much of which comes straight from the source.



Grace Marguerite Williams (author) from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York on November 03, 2010:

Dear SOBF, your point is very well said. Thank you for your response.

SOBF from New York, NY on November 03, 2010:

A great observation on the destruction of black character that is deeper than Hollywood or dark skinned women. The over portrayal of blacks as socially dysfunctional characters simply hits harder the darker you are. Black children are programmed to feel inferior and to hate themselves while white children are taught distrust blacks and feel superior through the images of both blacks and whites in the media. The most disturbing encounters I experience come from self hating blacks who actually believe all blacks are criminals and live in the ghetto, with the exception of them.

Negative black imagery has always played a key role in maintaining a separate racial society. It is a self perpetuating act that influences how negative imagery should be displayed. Subconsciously the mission of racial divide through demonizing continues, “The blacker the better” or should I say the worser?

minnow from Seattle on October 27, 2010:

Television and the movies also have unrealistic portrayals of Native American/First Nation women and basically have a distorted view of women in general. In her book, A Year in Van Nuys, Sandra Tsing Loh describes a very specific and narrow demographic for the writers of television, which could explain this. Good hub!

Nell Rose from England on October 27, 2010:

Hi, I think it is a vicious circle, the TV companies 'presume' that people prefer light skin, so they act accordingly with what they think, when really if they let dark skinned women do the roles nobody would really take any notice, and soon everybody would be treated the same! TV and film are a great way to brainwash the local population, and by doing what they are doing it is not helpful. I don't think it happens over here so much, England, because we tend to live in closer proximity to every nationality and the TV portrays dark skinned people in all walks of life. I do think America is behind us in this. The stupid thing about the whole of it is that if you are white like me, we spend pounds and pounds of money trying to get darker skinned! the whole thing is silly really, we are all equal therefore we should be treated as such. Great points here, rated up nell

Kevin Schofield on October 27, 2010:

Thanks for your informative assessment of this media discrimination. I've often wondered what happened to the gorgeous Janet Hubert in the Fresh Prince. I'd assumed that she'd been taken ill or had decided to leave the series, not that she'd been the victim of institutionalized media racism. Thanks for speaking out on this pernicious negative stereotyping. Kindest regards, Kev.

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