Yara Shahidi Urges grown-ish to Cast a “Wider Array of Skin Tones”

When the black-ish spinoff grown-ish, helmed by Yara Shahidi, premiered, it was met with raving reviews. To put it best, some described it as Degrassi: The Next Generation meets A Different World. An instant classic.

Grown-ish became known for unapologetically telling stories of the college experience with refreshing boldness and authenticity; however, as the series progressed, some social users continued pointing out one missing thing: dark-skinned characters, and specifically, dark-skinned women. And it was pinned on colorism.

Colorism, defined as prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone, typically among people of the same ethnic or racial group, thrives in Hollywood.

In 2015, Viola Davis said it this way: “When you do see a woman of color onscreen, the paper-bag test is still very much alive and kicking.”

More recently, Zendaya also acknowledged how Hollywood favors lighter-skinned Black women. “I am Hollywood’s, I guess you could say, acceptable version of a Black girl and that has to change,” said the actress at the Beautycon Festival in New York this past April.

Grown-ish itself has spoken on colorism. In the tenth episode of the series “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp,” grown-ish attempted to tackle the issue head on, but like the series, it didn’t properly involve any dark-skinned characters.

YouTuber Jo the Great explained in detail how the episode dropped the ball.

So why didn’t grown-ish include dark-skinned characters in its principal cast? And in an episode focused on the biases against darker-skinned women of color, why didn’t the storytelling including POVs from women with darker hues?

Back in March, Twitter users digitally confronted Shahidi about the issue, but nothing was resolved and the young actress ended up blocking some overzealous fans.

In April, Shahidi commented on colorism in her Essence cover article.

“I get that within the Black community there are a couple of us who are chosen, not by any fault of our own, to represent [everyone],” Shahidi said. “But I’ve been the same character for five years… I am not out here in a ton of movies and a ton of TV shows… I’m brown-skinned. I personally don’t view myself as light-skinned. I also understand I’m not dark-skinned. I don’t know how to classify myself, but when you see me, unless you hear my name, no one’s like, ‘That’s a young Iranian girl.’”

Her comments were authentic, but they didn’t exactly touch on the root of the issue; however, similar to Zendaya, Shahidi is using her platform to improve representation.

In Shahidi’s August cover piece with The Hollywood Reporter, Kenya Barris, creator of grown-ish, shared that Shahidi’s been urging that the show cast actors with a wider array of skin tones. Which when coupled with the current cast essentially boils down to dark-skinned actors and actresses.

Grown-ish is an amazing show as aforementioned. It’s thriving in a lane of its own, and hopefully it can continue its pioneering efforts by portraying dark-skinned characters with depth that aren’t the stereotypical loud-mouth, bitter sidekicks.

The critically-acclaimed Freeform series returns for its second season in January of 2019. Here’s to some hopeful new faces.


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Bryant Lydell

Bryant Lydell is creative, personable and quick-witted Howard and USC alum. He's the founder of The Top Tea, a songwriter, screenwriter and member of the casting team for Netflix's NAACP Image Award-winning hip-hop competition series Rhythm + Flow.

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