As you know I love all things musical and jazz hands. Last night I rediscovered some of my favourite dancers The Nicholas Brothers on YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zBb9hTyLjfM. Check them out in this clip from the movie ‘Story Weather’, it will make your eyes water they are so good- you can also see the foundations of break dancing in there too. As I marveled at their sheer talent, athleticism and acrobatics I began to get angry....very angry (you won’t like me when I’m angry).
I stood mouth open and was enraged at the injustice, as this clip was a metaphor. When you think of tap dancing, black and White or MGM films- whom do you think of? Fred Astaire, right? Well compared to the Nicholas Brothers- Fred Astaire seems like some geriatric shuffling around the dancefloor while muffling to himself, "I've still got it...ahhhh". To be fair, even Fred Astaire said that this sequence of the Nicholas Brothers in ‘Stormy Weather’ was the finest piece of tap dancing ever filmed.
Now the injustice of this really pisses me off. Have you heard of the Nicholas Brothers probably not. What springs to mind is something the editor of Elle US said on 'The City' about the spoilt and rather pleased with herself it girl Olivia Palermo, she said well in this industry there are show ponies and work horses. I hate the double standard but the lady was bang on. Because of the colour of their skin The Nicholas Brothers were condemned to be work horses in the business we call show. As black men they were only usually given a 3 minute set piece to do in a movie -their scene would start with the hero Fred Astaire or some other 1930/40s dream boat bringing their gal to a nightclub to see the brothers perform as part of the side show and that was it.
This annoys me because really how far have we come today? When you look at the fashion and beauty industries how many real positions of influence do ethic people hold. At launches (where I am usually the only black person) I'm told the UK will not stock foundation colours for darker skins. When I ask why, I'm told an array of offensive answers from because there is not enough space on the shelves to we don't think they will sell over here etc Translation ...... We don't think ethic/ black people can afford or want our products and quite frankly they are not important enough to make room for them. This is all madness when you think brands like Bobbi Brown, MAC (God bless you and all who sail in you), Estee Lauder, IIamasqua, NARS, Giorgio Armani, YSL, Sue Devitt, Clinique and the like all stock extensive colours and there is enough room for their lil’ old bottles to shove up on a counter.
In the wake of the anniversary of hurricane Katrina this all does hit a nerve with me about the perception of black people and their importance in the beauty world. Yet, ironically today you do have show ponies in the form of Naomi (don't look at me or I will throw a phone at your head) Campbell and make up artist mega stars such as Pat Mcgrath but why is it still a big deal to stock a full spectrum of make up for black and ethic consumers. It's very hard to have any sort of self worth and self esteem, when you, as a consumer rock up to a major beauty brand and the lack of choice screams you are not important especially when it comes to foundations and powders. The weird thing is these naughty brands do have darker shades but they are only available in the US. When I asked a marketing man of one of these brands why they don't bring the full range to the UK, he told me they needed to do more research. I told him to save his time and money on research, as there were black women living in the UK - trust me on that. It's part of a deep seeded problem that spans social/ economic reasons and is a reflection of how ethic/black skin tones can feel marginalized and that is also reflected on the counter. Close your eyes and imagine Cameron Diaz walking into a beauty hall and being told, “ sorry love we just don’t do any shades in your sunny yellow toned skin colour”, it does sound nuts doesn’t it, so why should it be the same for someone with a darker skin tone? So the next time you go make up shopping just imagine how it feels and what it says when you walk into a beauty hall and are met with a beauty apartheid.