Okay, so this response comes much later than I had planned. I could give you guys my routine excuses (exams, family, fate of the world, etcetera) but by now you know what to expect. When something particularly stupid happens, I need a few days to gather my vitriol. And usually, I gather it up into a video essay. But, Hum TV went so far down the stupidity rabbit hole, that it took me longer to meditate.
Long story short, a recent episode of their morning show ‘Jago Pakistan Jago’ wanted to celebrate darker skin. So, of course, they got some fair-skinned girls, and painted their faces dark.
Yes, because the only way to celebrate the prominent skin-tone in Pakistan is via blackface.
Their bout with blackface came a few weeks after we published a video about Pakistan’s Sheedhi community. And, it came mere days after Sana Safinaz released their latest warped production. Because of this, I can’t give you guys a methodically thought out analysis of their delusion. Not yet at least. The video essay will happen. But before it does, we need to be petty for a few minutes.
Nothing sticks out like a thorn in someone’s side like acknowledging other people’s victories. So, to really burn Hum TV’s morning show mind-fail, let’s mention some victories. These are moments when Pakistan’s entertainment industry actually acknowledged the prejudice, and got it right.
When Amna Ilyas won Model of the Year, and Put Haters on Blast
Now, I don’t care about the Lux Style Awards. I have mentioned this before. I will, before too long, mention this again. But, this shouldn’t mean that I can’t appreciate a power moment when I see one.
In 2015, the lovely Amna Ilyas won model of the year. And then proceeded to give the LSAs their moment of credibility.
In less than a minute, the lovely lady called out every bias held against her for the colour of her skin. I can’t think of a more honest moment in the history of Pakistani fashion.
The only thing that would have improved it was if she dropped that trophy like a mic, and walked off.
Now, Hum TV, do you see the difference? You used your platform for spectacle, and an ill-conceived spectacle at that. Amna Ilyas used her platform for simple, brutally honest dialogue. You tried my last nerve, while she tried to encourage a long overdue debate. You failed on multiple levels, while she gave Pakistani award shows their best winning moment.
When Rizwan Beyg Celebrated Black Beauty
Pakistan’s fascination with blackface is particularly problematic, because of its larger racial politics. I mean, most of us still don’t acknowledge that we have a community of Afro descent, living in the country. Or that they have been living here since forever (we did a video about that, by the way). And when we do present black skin, it is accompanied by a demeaning colonial fantasy.
But, there have been some reasons to celebrate. For example, when South African models Alice Rowlands and Palesa walked the Rizwan Beyg show.
For a country that is as colonially hungover as ours, this little act of resistance is a big step. Here’s hoping that we see more gorgeous black women in Pakistani media, and that they are celebrated. Always.
When Generation Gave Us the Best Fashion Shoot for 2018
Amidst the hoopla surrounding all the very, very questionable barrage that Pakistani fashion has thrown out, this little gem isn’t getting its due. Now, if it is a fashion shoot, then aesthetics matter. But, you don’t have to be tone-deaf. You don’t have to take a fair model, dip her in black paint and call that ‘high fashion’. I mean you could do that, some of you have. But you don’t have to.
The ‘Nai Rang’ campaign for Generation is proof. Can we all take a minute to appreciate how beautiful these images are?
Can we also acknowledge that this is the most honest depiction of skin colour Pakistani fashion has ever seen?
Celebrating what most would write off as ‘imperfections’ and unabashedly unfiltered. This, I will more than willingly call art.
Oh and also, the concept originated with Abdullah Harris. Remember him? The gentleman who gave us a photoshoot that presented bridal couture via domestic violence. And now, he gave us this. I mean, that is a redemption arc if ever I saw one.
Side note, this doesn’t mean that all his past brain-farts should be forgotten. Nor do I take responsibility for any future delusions. I just believe in giving credit where it is due.
When Telenor Subverted the Narrative
So, let me ask you a question. What is the story presented in a quintessential fairness cream ad? Come on, you know this.
Basically, girl is dark skinned, and because she’s dark skinned, she isn’t confident. Her life is going up in flames, and she is powerless to stop it. Because dark skin. And then, like a bigoted fairy-godmother, descends a tube of fairness cream. Eliminating her dark skin, and replacing it with a fair visage. Like magic, the girl gets her dream job, her dream man. Basically, she gets the life of her dreams. Because fair skin.
Now, obviously, this is a special kind of BS. But how do you call it out?
Ideally, by presenting a counter narrative. Now, we have written about Telenor’s fantastic ad series before. But I want to mention this one again.
Essentially serving as a counter to the fairness cream ad, this one showcases a woman who wasn’t stopped by society’s bigotry. She persevered, and continued to love herself. Because, and wait for this Fair and Lovely, if someone doesn’t want to marry a girl because she’s dark, they’re the ones with a problem. I could say the same about any company that doesn’t give a woman (or man) a job because of the colour of their skin.
And again, Hum TV, did you hear that? If you want to celebrate dark skin, showcase the many, many women who have persevered despite society. Don’t (as should be obvious) paint a fair skinned woman, and call that ground-breaking. You aren’t inspired for doing this, you’re stupid.
Hey, Hum TV, are you listening?
Now, moment of pettiness over, let’s talk reality. I know many a Hum TV executive is scratching their head right now. ‘But we showed people that dark skin can be beautiful’ they’ll be reminding themselves. And for them, let me just set the record straight. That’s not what you did. First of all, the fact that Hum TV elected to darken fair skinned models’ faces, that is reminiscent of a very problematic history.
Across countries, minstrel shows would use similar makeup to mock a people, to the extent of dehumanizing them. That may not have been the intent here, but you have to put such acts in context. Particularly when Pakistan has seen such ‘accidental’ blackface before.
Secondly, let’s first acknowledge colourism in Pakistan, and then accept that this segment didn’t help dark skinned Pakistanis. I’m going to argue that it hurt them.
I wanted to write about the times when Pakistan actually celebrated dark skin because this is really rare. More often than not, we don’t see dark skinned people on Pakistani posters or television shows. Or if we do, their skin has been lightened. So, the only way to celebrate dark skin has to put dark skinned Pakistanis at the forefront. Anything else is cashing in on their plight, without giving anything back to them.
Hum TV hijacked their struggle, but didn’t include them in the conversation. And for that, we have to call them out.