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Quick Q+A with: Valley Fontaine

NEW: Valley Fontaine

What inspired you to create Michele Obama – ‘Black Like Me’?

Michelle Obama was leaving office and for me she would be missed and I felt I was not alone. From my friends to the comments on social media, it was clear that Michelle symbolised something deeper than what was on the surface. Being a dark skinned wife of the President of the United States was a statement especially for darker women. I noted when I first saw the DNC convention back in 2008 that she was rare, they were rare; a prominent black man with a wife not just darker than himself, but one that was considered by many to be a dark skinned woman.

Now she has left I wondered if life for girls and women who suffer from shade-ism would be easier. Would more dark women be put on centre stage?

As colourism – in my opinion – are deeply ingrained issues which remain in the collective unconscious of many black people and have done for centuries; how do you believe we can change that mindset?

I think the mindset is already changing. I think shade-ism and the politics of black hair are closely linked. Just as black women are now increasingly embracing their thick kinky curly coily hair in the place of chemically straightening it, a new consciousness and self-love has surfaced. African-ness is finally receiving positivity. I believe this will improve things over time.

Eurocentric beauty standards still rule mainstream media. Do you feel the influence of Michelle Obama is the beginning of a change within mainstream media and their depiction of beauty?

Certainly. She was on the cover of so many mainstream magazines – that would have had some kind of impact. But I think change is happening anyway. Social media has influenced the gate keeper and now we have a host of new thought leaders and their followers leading the way and dictating trends.

What would you like people to take away from listening to the programme?

Knowledge of the pain, self-awareness and an understanding of where the issue stems from in the hope that it will help change behaviour.

I know other communities like the East Asians and South Asians have issues with shade-ism too, so I imagine they will be listening and resonating closely as well.

The Weekend Documentary: Michelle Obama – 'Black Like Me’ is available online here.

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