‘Survivor’s Remorse’ Addresses the Effects of Colorism on Both Dark and Light-Skinned Black Women
Survivor’s Remorse/STARZ

The issue of colorism is one that has affected the Black community for years. In short, the definition of colorism is when a person or group of people discriminate against someone of the same race because of the their darker skin tone, but the latest episode of Survivor’s Remorse takes a look at the conversation from both sides of the spectrum.

In the episode titled “The Photo Shoot,” Teyonah Parris’s character Missy sets up a shoot with a prominent magazine for Jessie T. Usher’s character, Cam. When Missy arrives on set on the day of the shoot, she is displeased to learn that the brown-skinned model she originally chose to appear alongside Cam in the photos was unable to make it due to a scheduling conflict and was ultimately replaced with a light-skinned model (played by Hit The Floor star Logan Browning.) Missy immediately brings her disapproval of the new model to the attention of Cam’s agent, Reggie, who is also her husband (played by RonReaco Lee). Although Reggie attempts to convince Missy that having a light-skinned model at Cam’s side for the shoot versus a dark-skinned model is no big deal, Missy stands her ground.

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Stressing the importance of the representation of darker-skinned Black women in media and fashion, while also pointing out the troubling perception that successful Black athletes prefer lighter-skinned women, Missy makes it clear to Reggie that her reasoning behind choosing the model she originally selected was part of a bigger plan to combat both issues. “Do you know what every dark-skinned girl thinks when she sees only light-skinned girls in magazines,” she asks Reggie as they stand on the set of the photo shoot. “They think their dark skin makes them invisible.” Reggie again attempts to reason with Missy, suggesting that she press the issue at another time, perhaps when a bigger publication is involved, which leads her to emphasize exactly why she feels she can’t just let it go. “I’m tired of ‘let it go’ and ‘we’ll work on it next time.’ Next time never comes,” she says adamantly. 

Shortly after Missy makes the final decision to fire the new model, Reggie is heard telling Cam that the model is being replaced to accommodate Missy’s vision for the shoot. Cam immediately expresses his displeasure with the model being replaced, noting that any backlash from the model’s firing will ultimately reflect badly on him rather than Missy. To Reggie’s surprise, Cam also points out the double standard in Missy wanting to make sure dark-skinned women have representation, but using the replacement model’s skin tone against her to get it done. “We’re sh*tcanning someone because her skin tone wasn’t up to Missy’s par,” Cam says to Reggie upon receiving the news. “Do you think that’s right?”

In the episode’s most pivotal scene, Missy is seen breaking the news to the model who is being fired. When the model makes it plain that she overheard Missy’s conversation with Reggie and therefore knows the real reason she’s being replaced, the two women come to a head. “All I know, is that my whole life, women like you have been winning,” Missy says, after reassuring the model that she will be paid for a full day despite being let go. The model then challenges Missy to be honest with her before making a powerful statement about them being more equals as Black women than competitors as women of different skin tones. “Can’t you see that we’re in the same boat? If the boat sinks, you think because I’m light-skinned I don’t drown? As their conversation comes to a close, the model reveals that the original, brown-skinned model Missy chose for the shoot is actually a friend of hers and was offered another opportunity at Vogue, which was why she had to back out of the shoot. Missy is slightly annoyed when the model says she believes the situation was a blessing in disguise that would have given both she and her friend an opportunity to work had Missy not decided to fire her for not being brown enough.

Missy’s brief but pointed explanation of how it feels for darker-skinned Black women to constantly see only one type of representation of Black women in the public eye is painfully accurate. It also speaks to the exact sentiments of the many dark-skinned women who have had to go through life believing the false implication that they were somehow not as attractive, desirable or acceptable as lighter-skinned women.

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The conversation between Missy and Reggie also sheds light on the skewered view of some Black men who refuse to see the issue for exactly what it is without assuming that Black women are overreacting or exaggerating when speaking on the negative psychological and emotional effects it can have on the women who live through it everyday. 

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While some may find the other side of the colorism topic a redundant or irrelevant one, the truth of the matter is that attempting to diminish the value of lighter-skinned Black women in an effort to highlight the beauty and importance of darker-skinned Black women is only contributing to more of the same. 

The one and only thing that will eliminate colorism among African Americans altogether is a change in the mindset of the community from one of elitism and separation within the culture, to one of inclusion that promotes a sense of equal value of all Black women across the board.

Survivor’s Remorse airs Sundays at 10pm on the STARZ network. You can catch up on “The Photo Shoot” episode mentioned above and other past episodes with STARZ On Demand.