'Brown Skin Girl' Director Jenn Nkiru Talks Creating An Unapologetic Video Celebrating Blackness
When “Brown Skin Girl” was released last year, it became a worldwide phenomenon. Challenges were created, South Asian women wanted in and a true conversation was started about the beauty of darker complexions.
So when Beyoncé was conceptualizing Disney+’s Black Is King, a visual album based on the 2019 soundtrack she executive produced, The Lion King: The Gift, the queen tapped a Black woman to portray the delicate complexities of modern beauty.
The Nigerian-British director Jenn Nkiru told ESSENCE earlier this month that she always felt it “problematic” that brown-skinned women or women of darker complexions were left out of the beauty conversation.
“We really wanted, and I really wanted, this piece to encompass the breadth of Black and Brown womanhood, really,” she explained of her stand-out music video, “Brown Skin Girl.” “And as filmmakers, particularly as a Black filmmaker and as a Black woman filmmaker, a lot of the work I’m creating is readdressing gaps, just gaps, quite frankly.”
The video not only features A-listers such as R&B singer Kelly Rowland, Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o and former ESSENCE cover star Naomi Campbell, it also centers Beyoncé’s family with her mother Tina Knowles-Lawson sitting pretty in the video along with her youngest daughter, Rumi, showcased. And of course, Blue Ivy, who lends her tender voice to the song, is also placed at Bey’s right hand.
“We have an incredible star-studded cast of beautiful, iconic, incredible women. And then you also have women who are lesser known, but are on the ground really doing work,” Nkiru said. “So when I was casting this, it wasn’t just based on beauty and grace and all those things, I was really looking at who are the activists in their field, who are the women really doing work.”
It’s why Nkiru found it supremely important to embrace women who were albino along with South Asian women, who deeply connected to the song when it was released last year. The director said she wanted to ensure “that the spectrum of us was in it.”
“Women are so multi-dimensional. There is a full person under the cloak of a color,” Nkiru continued. “And it’s about how do we allow that to shine through? And how do we see different versions of that?”
Although the song and subsequently the video is turning the deeply painful ideas of colorism on its head, Nkiru said addressing colorism wasn’t her immediate goal.
“My focus is always, how do we get to represent people in a human way, in a full way? These are women,” she emphasized. “Irrespective of even complexion for a moment, these are women.”
Nkiru continued, taking a deep breath: “I just think Brown skin, Black skin, dark skin, is so beautiful. I just see the divinity in it. It’s gorgeous. This was meant to be an affirmation of that. That’s the intent of it, to be an affirmation.
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