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No Shade: the film taking on colourism

SPOTLIGHT ON COLOURISM: Kadeem Pearse, who plays Danny, and Sharea Samuels, who plays Andrea on set in Clare Anyiam-Osigwe's film No Shade

COLOURISM IS a current hot topic but it’s always been an issue faced by many in the black community. One of the most drastic changes in the discourse in recent times is that it is being addressed and acknowledged on the world stage, both with regards to the field of entertainment but also in terms of the impact it can have on everyday lives.

It’s the impact on ordinary people, the everyday skin tone microaggressions that filmmaker Clare Anyiam-Osigwe is taking on with her debut feature film No Shade.

The story follows Jade, played by Adele Oni, a dark-skinned young black woman on her journey to find love both in the form of a relationship with the opposite sex, and with herself and her own skin.

Anyiam-Osigwe has already achieved so much with her debut. She’s joined a shockingly short list of just of black British female filmmakers to secure UK distribution. Anyiam-Osigwe is only the sixth to do so.

She spoke to The Voice about her reaction to the news. “It means a lot because it’s still something that’s quite rare. When we look at distribution of black films into the cinema in the UK alone...less than five have come out this year in total and thousands of films go into cinemas every year so that’s really quite significant that less than five films are shown that were directed by a black director and I’m the only female black director to have a theatrical release in the UK this year.”

The journey to having her film picked up by Odeon and screened across select locations in the UK was not an easy one. Anyiam-Osigwe approached more than 100 distributors before she was successful.

“It’s a significant triumph for me because I went to several distributors – to be exact we went to like 108 distributors – and they all said no,” she said.

Anyiam-Osigwe shot No Shade, which she also stars in, in just six days. It’s a seemingly impossible feat but something that was driven by her desire to pay everyone who worked on it.

“I wanted to make sure I paid every single person that worked on set. So everyone was paid. We begged, borrowed with regards to location...a lot of our post production...people reduced their rates,” she said.

It’s admirable that she had this ambition and followed it through. So many times opportunities can be only open to up and coming creatives on an “exposure” basis, with no adequate financial compensation. It’s something that can prevent our stories being told in the way we want them to be, or at all.

ON SET: Director Clare Anyiam-Osigwe

By producing the film independently, Anyiam-Osigwe was in full control. She also empowered her actors by giving them the freedom to improvise on set. Viewers see this in a scene between Jade and Andrea, played by Sharea Samuels, when they have a heart to heart, which gives an insight into the experience of one of the characters’ light-skinned love interest and promotes unity and sisterhood between women regardless of their skin tone.

Another notable scene, one that is bursting with tension, is what we’ll call the wig scene. To avoid spoilers, we’ll skip over the details but it’s impossible to take your eyes off the screen.

Oni endeavours to do well with a subject and script that isn’t always easy to navigate and Kadeem Pearse’s performance as Danny, Jade’s friend whose caught up on colour, constantly pursuing relationships with the primary motivation to be with a “lightie”, has potential. It’s likely that audiences will find him frustratingly relatable.

The film’s lead Jade comes across as desperate to have her beauty validated by others, particularly men – whether that be long-term friend Danny, Dominic – the white man she dates who fetishises her blackness or the dark-skinned man who falls for her. The lack of a considered moment of realisation that she's beautiful just because, not because a man finds her attractive feels like a missed opportunity.

But Anyiam-Osigwe said Jade’s preoccupation with how others see her reflects the reality of our world.

“I think self-realisation comes in different ways. Through showing the film around the world different women have reacted differently.

“For me, it’s important because we live in such an image conscious world, a lot of the time how we do feel about ourselves does come from other people. I think a lot of women would probably be upset with that but at the same time [it] reveals that it is a truth.

“When you’re online and you’re sort of creating say, like, an Instagram feed and you’ve got a rep to protect or you’re trying to build a following, you’re kind of editing your life to make other people want to get to know you, to follow you, so you are conscious about the way people see you. So it’s more about a reflection of our times the times that we live in now and how are lives and our self esteem does hang on 'likes' and 'follows' and how other men and women talk to us or about us.”

While concerns have grown around social media’s influence on young people and influencing their beauty ideals so that they are guided towards wanting to achieve the unattainable – or at least unattainable below a certain pay bracket – it has also fostered communities which celebrate beauty in all its different forms.

Hopefully viewers, especially those with hang ups similar to Jade’s, can find meaning beyond seeking validation from others that they are beautiful whatever their shade, whatever their hair type or any other conventional beauty standard. Regardless, there’s no doubt Anyiam-Osigwe’s film will be a conversation starter.

At a screening, one young audience member, who said colourism was an issue among her age group, expressed an interest in No Shade being shown in schools. There’s an undeniable appetite for more stories to be told by black women, especially ones from a black British perspective. And anyone who wants to see that change can do more than just hope that we don’t have to wait so long for another black female photographer to have their film shown in UK cinemas, they can support Anyiam-Osigwe’s No Shade. Just as the tangible public interest in black-fronted blockbusters and big budget films have impacted which stories studios are choosing to tell, the same could happen here.

No Shade is in selected cinemas now. To find out where the film is showing near you and to book, click here.

Have you seen the film? Let us know what you thought of it by emailing or tweet us at @TheVoiceNews

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