Colorism is one subject that can easily cause division and friction in the African-American community. The result of over four centuries of colonialism and slavery, the shade of our skin can determine our sense of worth and attractiveness in a country that runs on White standards of beauty. The pain and persecution of darker skinned Black people can be traced from Wallace Thurman’s 1929 novel “The Blacker The Berry” to the recent 2012 Bill Duke documentary “Dark Girls.” But what about lighter skinned African-Americans?
In the new web series “Yellow” (which premiered December 29th) actor Austen Jaye plays a single man in Los Angeles, whose dating and personal life are affected by the stereotypes and perceptions of the lighter skinned Black man from those in his own community.
Numa Perrier, the creator of “Yellow,” is also the creative genius (with partner Dennis Dortch) behind BlackAndSexyTV, the Youtube channel which boasts a roster of quality Black programming including “That Guy” and “Hello Cupid.” BlackandSexyTV’s popularity has now crossed over in the mainstream, with Perrier and Dortch currently developing their web series “The Couple” for HBO.
Perrier and “Yellow” leading man Jaye met four years ago as co-stars in a Civil Rights play, and Perrier would cast him in “RoomieLoverFriends.” The idea of tackling the experience of a lighter skinned black character had been brewing in Perrier’s mind for quite some time. “I was thinking about this idea about the plight of the light skin black man, which was kind of a running joke, not just things that I had heard Austen say on set sometimes, but just in life socially. We were talking about it one day and I said this is a series.”
HelloBeautiful spoke with both Perrier and Jaye on tackling such a sensitive subject, and how taking a comedic approach to the light skin vs. dark skin debate has resulted in more engagement on a highly charged topic that is still painful for many of us.
HELLOBEAUTIFUL: How did you come up with the concept of “Yellow?”
NUMA PERRIER: I think the first seeds were planted when I started working with Austen on “RoomieLoverFriends” and had his character crossed over to “Hello Cupid.” I asked Austen what he thought and if he would be interested in developing a little based on him, a little bit based on the character we had created ‘Austin’ in Roomieloverfriends and he was down. He was down to laugh at himself and explore the issues and that’s how it started.
HB: How much of your own personal experiences were reflected in the first episode?
AUSTEN JAYE: A few years back, a woman that I was interested in gave me a nickname “Butterscotch” and I was like, ok, that’s something I’ve never heard before. I’ve heard “pretty boy” “lightskin”, or “yellow” — ”Butterscotch” is something that happens to be real. I understand the issues in the black community with dark skin and light skin, but my mother actually didn’t have my brother and I around that so much. I was pretty much in diverse situations, so if I was being made fun of for something, it wasn’t necessarily for being light-skinned.
HB: Do you find it easier to explore colorism in this web series with a male character as opposed to a female character? Or is there a standard when we talk light skinned vs. dark skinned men?
NP: With some of my lighter skinned women friends, they definitely encounter a lot of issues that they talk to me about. Sometimes I’m understanding but sometimes, I’m like ‘What? You are really pushing it right now as far as what you think you’re going through.’ But, it’s very real to them, it really bothers them when people think they’re mixed when they’re not mixed; people feel they can kind of interrogate them about where they’re from or people don’t give them credit for being part of the community.
I think doing it from a male point of view is a little bit of an easier entry point, even though some of my guy friends who are dark skinned are like, “Come on Numa, what are you doing? It’s not hard out there for them, it’s hard for us.” It’s like, you guys, it’s just the first episode, you don’t even know what we’re gonna get into. I think they’re able to suck it up a little more than if it was like, a lightskinned woman talking about how hard she has it.
AJ: I think across the board, a lot of lightskinned women are always perceived as the pretty girl or they always have it easy. I just think it might’ve been harder for a woman because people would’ve looked at it more from a complaining aspect versus a man.
HB: What has the feedback been like?
NP: It’s been amazing feedback. At BlackAndSexyTV, we never know how the show’s gonna hit or what’s gonna happen. We just knew that it was funny to watch — that’s our barometer. Our core group of creatives feel strongly about what we’ve done so we felt confident in releasing this new series. People were caught off guard by the style and definitely the content. Why would this beautiful man with an amazing physique would have problems at all? Well, he does and you will see both sides of the coin. So many people have just been really into it and excited about it, so it just encourages us to do more.
AJ: It was very interesting because a lot of times when I do my work, I just put it out there and that’s the best I could do and I allow whatever comments or questions to come. The response here was just so crazy. Like, that Sunday when the episode dropped, Numa called me and she was like, “This is crazy!”
NP: You know what else was really interesting about the response? People would say, ‘Oh, I can’t believe that this guy has it hard. Like, I prefer dark skinned men myself.’ The way people were contradicting themselves in one statement. ‘I do tend to like darker skin men, but I’m just saying.’ It was just interesting how they could be so disbelieving in one moment, but at the very same time, acknowledge their collusion in the process.
HB: There was a lot of buzz on Twitter about a certain sex scene in the first episode of ‘Yellow.’ How did that come about?
NP: People were not expecting a sudden sex scene and I was just laughing. I was talking to our co-founder and I was like, we must be all freaky over here because we didn’t flinch or bat an eye. That didn’t really cross our mind, we just thought it was kind of funny. Our community can be very prudish. We’re having sex just as much as everybody else. That’s something we take on. Sexuality and sensuality and the love for our bodies and attraction is something we’re interested in and is just part of our humanity.
HB: You also explore the light skin/dark skin debate in your other web series “Hello Cupid,” which follows the online dating adventures of two friends of different shades.
NP: Yes, the show’s creators, Lena Waithe and Ashley Blaine Featherson had originally brought this series to us as a black woman and a white woman. We loved the concept of the show, but just felt like we wanted to make a little tweak and have it be two black women and have that dynamic there, but not so much knocking you over the head with it. We really wanted to explore the relationship between two black friends and in a subtle way, kind of enter those dynamics between a lighter friend and a darker friend and how they never really talk about it, but it’s there.
Luckily, Ashley and Lena were interested in that slight shift, so that’s how that show ended up delving into those politics. I mean, if it had been a white woman, it would’ve still dealt with those race politics, but I felt that it was gonna come more from a place of friendship and really wanted to get into the topic for our community specifically. They focused on the love story, but just like in real life between two women who are friends, if one is dark and one is light, they may never really talk about it, but it’s always there. That was a layer that was important for us to add on. So that was a part of the collaboration we were really happy with and some people, as a result, talk about the hot-button topic.
HB: When exploring a topic this sensitive, is there more engagement when you can explore it more from a comedic point of view instead of a more rigid, academic point of view?
NP: I think that it helps because there’s humor in it. I mean, quite honestly, in some ways, a very silly notion we’re dealing with. I mean, it’s rooted in something very dark and very upsetting. It’s very institutionalized. But, there’s still strings of humor in there and I think if you can grab on to those strings of humor from that that people want to follow and it’s a person or character that people can relate to, I think the conversations can get deeper. As we see, if you go on the comments in Youtube, the conversation is very deep.
And I think in a documentary sense, I think the conversation is also very deep, but it seems very rigid to the point of people not listening and just putting their points out in a very rigid way, where I think that with the comedic side, people are a little more open because you’re not pressing on a bruise in the same way.
Episode 2 of “Yellow” airs on Youtube February 9th. Watch the first episode below and tell us what you think!