MME EVENTS: Bill Duke Shares How He Battled Colorism In His Personal Life & Hollywood…and Won

Bill Duke was only one of several notable panelists during our 2015 X-Perience Morementum Seminar Series, which was held in October 2015 at The Los Angeles Film School.  You can HEAR more of Duke’s filmmaking insights, career advice and how he overcame his own personal struggles by watching our exclusive video highlights.

In this intense and personal MME seminar video excerpt, celebrated actor and director Bill Duke tackles the very sensitive subject of colorism in Hollywood and his personal life. Duke discusses intimate details of the pain he suffered – and witnessed in his own family and community – as a result of the painful divide and sometimes tragic outcome of societal colorism. Duke championed these past struggles by producing and directing two searing and heralded documentaries: “Dark Girls” and “Light Girls”.  Both films aired on OWN to rave reviews and they not only clearly shine a spotlight on the history of colorism, but they also give a voice to many of those women (and men) who have suffered under its destructive deception.


Nick Ramos (CEO / Co-Founder, MoreMentum Entertainment)  You dealt with the subject of colorism in your 2011 critically-acclaimed documentary Dark Girls and the follow-up Light Girls, can you tell us why this subject is so close to your heart?

Bill Duke:  Growing up as dark-skinned, young man in my time of the 40s, 50s and 60s, uhh… we were considered unattractive.  They called them uhh… the good-looking boys they kind of straight-hair and gray or light-brown or blue eyes and that’s the gold.  I didn’t go to my senior prom or anything.  And then I saw what my sister – who was as dark as me – and young girls in my family…and then, looking today to see how young girls are treated based upon skin color.  And I wanted to give a voice to the voiceless.  And so, as I investigated this, it wasn’t only a dark girls problem, it was a light girls problem, too.

If you go online today, and look under hashtag #teamlightskin and #teamdarkskin — does anybody know about that?  Conflicting over light and dark skin, you know what I mean?  Each of them has over 350,000 members a piece.  Here’s the irony of this:  I have white female friends that spend at least 2 days a week in tanning salons.  Botox their lips, get butt-lifts to look more ethnic.  Everybody wanna be black except us!  You know skin-bleaching is $50 billion dollar business worldwide?

I was at The Apollo Theater and this older black lady got up and said, “Well, you know, it’s an interesting film, but why you airing our dirty laundry?”  And I said to her, “Ma’am with all due respect because it’s stinking up the house.”  We [don’t] like talking about things that bother our culture.  We just like putting them under the rug and they end up killing us.

This lady came in and, you know, and I regret it to this day, but she was not supposed to be one of the interviews and somebody said, you gottta interview her because her story is incredible.  The battery ran out of life, he couldn’t get her in the film.  Okay, so she was unexpected. “How does this affect your life?  This topic of dark skin, light skin?”  She said, “Well, You know, I’m 38…until 5 years ago, I’ve never ridden in the passenger’s seat of a man’s car.”  I said, “What do you mean?”  She says, “Well…you know, I’ve always had low self-esteem and until I joined the church a few years ago and God touched my spirit, you know, if I went out with a man, we drove someplace, he’d make me act like his assistant and I’d always drive.”  She said, “But until 5 years ago, I’ve never ridden in the passenger’s seat of a man’s car.”  Those moments when you can just get somebody are some of the best moments in docs.