Clare Anyiam-Osigwe, a first-time director, is enjoying the type of success usually reserved for veteran filmmakers.
Her film debut, “No Shade” is a witty, wry romantic story that shines a bright light on the troubling issue of colorism. Anyiam-Osigwe, a Nigerian-British entrepreneur and an emerging talent in the film industry, wrote and directed the film, which she completed in six-and-a-half days. Produced by the British Urban Film Festival (BUFF), the film had successful premieres in Cannes, France, Washington, D.C., London as well as a world festival premiere at the Rio Cinema in Dalston (London) in this past June. It was the official selection at the Women of The Lens Film Festival, Da Bounce Urban Film Festival, BUFF and the Greater Cleveland Urban Film Festival.
The independent filmmaker said that earlier this month, she and her husband negotiated a deal with Diarah N’Daw-Spech, director at Artmattan Productions, which acquired U.S. rights to the film.
Since its release, “No Shade” has captured the film-going public’s imagination as it explores the hardships dark-skinned women in Britain face in the dating world and is reigniting some difficult conversations in Black and other circles. Black women’s’ experiences are complicated by the fetishization of light-skinned women and their white counterparts by Black men. The film traces the travails of Jade, a photographer who has a series of jarring dates with oblivious interested in a certain type of woman but not her. The film is straightforward and raw, leaving viewers – particularly Black men – to ponder any number of questions about the people they choose and why.
“This is a film you can only pray for,” said Anyiam-Osigwe, reacting to the film’s success. “It has made me feel really proud. It was my first script, my first script ever.”
Too often, she said, a disturbing number of Black British men have no desire to date dark-skinned women, choosing instead to pursue relationships with Caucasian, light-skinned Black or racially ambiguous women. And professional Black men in the entertainment industry are notorious perpetuators of misogynoir.
Anyiam-Osigwe, who also co-stars in the film, said she’s particularly proud of the fact that she and her husband made the film without the assistance or support of any studio or public or private funding. The topic, she said, is timely and socially relevant because the Blacks in Britain are grappling with colorism, beauty standards, and accepting themselves while building self-esteem.
“I feel really great that I’ve made something of social relevance,” she explained. “Black men, mostly West Indian men, are dating white women. It’s a conscious choice but there’s an awakening going on among Black Brits. There’s a lot of talk online. I don’t expect things to change overnight but I’m pleased that this film has really helped have a deeper context. The film is politically charged. It’s showing you some truths. The biggest thing for me is that you should be able to date and love whoever you want. Colorism is degrading the black woman. It’s very, very rare that Black women will go out and talk about black skin. But as a beautician/dermatologist you talk to people and overhear so many conversations that you’re privy to. I pay attention and as someone trained as actress and director, I was trained to listen.”
Anyiam-Osigwe said a “real mix” of people – white, Black and apprehensive mixed-race people – have been coming to see the film and the reaction has been very positive.
“The film is still hot on people’s minds,” she said. “People are still coming back since the first screening in June. It’s still on their minds and stirring discussion.”
Anyiam-Osigwe said the corrosive nature of the men’s attitudes and the resulting internalized self-hatred and damage to Black women’s self-esteem is sometimes hard to overcome. But there is another element of the equation.
“A lot of my fair-skinned girlfriends will ‘thief’ a man up,” Anyiam-Osigwe explained. “They make him pay, rinse him. Light-skinned girls and white girls can get away with that. They know their power in the moment. The ‘hot lighties’ are fulfilling a fantasy for him and her needs aren’t usually being fulfilled. As teens, fair-skinned women lap up the attention, love the love. But in their 20s, they want more. But these same men don’t want to spend any money on a Black girl.”
The director, who grew up in foster care, said she was bullied as a child, called an “African bum cleaner,” and was told that she looked like a gorilla, but said she’s a proud Black woman. In a BBC film clip promoting the film, Anyiam-Osigwe went further.
“The rhetoric for me since I was 14 was that I was pretty for a dark-skinned girl. This, to me, was deeply disrespectful, because I’m a very proud Igbo, Nigerian, British-born woman and my heritage, my mom, my aunties who have those traditional African features, I think they’re stunning,” said the director.