Dark girls are less attractive, less capable, less intelligent than light girls.

That’s the deep bias explored in penetrating and emotional interviews with dark-skinned black women in the new film Dark Girls that’s showing around the country and in Chicago this week. The documentary opened at the Toronto International Film Festival last month. A showing took place Monday at the DuSable Museum of African American History on the South Side, 740 East 56th Place.

Produced by D. Channsin Berry and actor/director Bill Duke, the film began a national tour this week, including its sold-out stop in Chicago.

“I contacted [the producers] about showing it here primarily because of the buzz that the short trailer created,” said Pemon Rami, director of educational services and programs at the DuSable Museum. “It resonated with a lot of women and young girls.”

 In the film, interviews are conducted with dark-skinned women, including celebrities such as Academy Award nominated actress Viola Davis. In the film’s trailer, women of various ages talk about feeling uncomfortable in their dark skin, one even recalling as a child trying to wash the complexion off her face, feeling that she was dirty.

Women, according to Keith Maddox, associate professor of psychology at Tufts University, are more likely to be judged based on their physical attributes and attractiveness. Skin color and even hair texture, he said, are scrutinized at a higher level, and tend to be a bigger issue for women.

Research has shown that there are negative connotations associated with dark skin, specifically for women, said Kendrick T. Brown, psychologist and associate dean of faculty at Macalester College.

“People have to be very conscious and aware of what can be unconscious associations that people make between light complexion and things that are, quote, positive and dark complexion and things that are, quote, negative,” Brown said.

Duke also cites research showing how damaging those unconscious associations can be, according to an interview conducted on the film’s website.

“In the late ’60s, a famous psychological study was done in which a young black girl was presented with a set of dolls. Every time she was asked to point to the one that wasn’t pretty, not smart, etc., she pointed to the black doll that looked just like her,” Duke said. “In her mind, she was already indoctrinated. To watch her do that was heartbreaking and infuriating.

“As the filmmakers behind Dark Girls,” he adds, “our goal is to take that little girl’s finger off that doll.”

The film, according to Rami, might very well have the power to do just that.

“We hope that by doing projects like this it will invigorate a conversation in our community about what we say to the children that we raise, our friends and the people in our community,” he said. 

Co-producer Berry echoed that point on the movie’s website.

“The skin issue is a discussion we all need to have once and for all…so we can eradicate it,” he said.