Still from
Still from 'A Gentle Magic'

A Gentle Magic // an independent documentary exploring skin bleaching in South Africa

“bein alive & bein a woman & bein coloured is a metaphysical dilemma / i havent conquered yet”

ntozake shange

It makes sense that a documentary about skin bleaching was made for black girls. Being a black girl, a dark skinned black girl, I know that I am a suitable member of the audience. Society has consistently told me that my quarter-to-midnight skin is undesirable so understand the simple joy of a documentary that attempts to speak of skin like mine as acceptable, beautiful and worth celebrating. More interestingly, this documentary attempts to understand why people are bleaching their skin and what the privileges of the desired outcome are.

The documentary, which borrows its name from one of the most popular skin bleaching products in South Africa, Gentle Magic, is directed by Lerato Mbangeni and Tseliso Monaheng. The skin deep shots are captivating and each scene garners the profound perspectives of university students, artists, writers, cleaners, video vixens, skin doctors and sociologists from around the country.

The complexities of this topic are highlighted throughout this documentary – male attention, Beyoncé, the definitions of beauty, self-esteem, health hazards, and the accessibility and affordability of the skin bleaching products.

However, self-awareness seems to be crucial to this film because ultimately racial identity is at the core of skin bleaching. The desire to bleach ones skin does not seem to be innately due to our mainstream Eurocentric ideals, I actually think Colourism has just been part of the Black community’s daily bread for centuries. It would be easy to blame colonial and other oppressive regimes for possibly embedding this form of self-hate but I am not confident that that’s the root.

I am still haunted by one of the slogans on André 3000’s 2014 Outkast reunion tour jumpsuits that read, “Across cultures, darker people suffer most. Why?” It is as if we all know this but cannot isolate the cause. The documentary itself is investigating the reasoning behind this ritual but the answers are terribly contradictory and ultimately there is an incompleteness in our understanding. However, the introspection of individuals and ultimately a culture that glorifies light skin, is imperative and the subtle advocacy of self-love is compelling.

A Gentle Magic will be screened again here:

26 November 2017 at RE: Capitoli

2 December 2017 at Afropunk Battle of the Bands

8 December 2017 at The Bioscope

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