White fascination had begun from ancient times and it is still rampant in our advertising and beauty industry
Jaya Ahsan is known as a versatile actor. She has portrayed a variety of roles and has been praised for most of them.
When she played the role of a Santal woman in a telefilm titled "Hatkura", her face and arms were painted shades darker than her natural skin tone. Her co-actor, Anisur Rahman Milon also had similar dark make-up on.
Both were applauded for accurately depicting their characters.
Neither Jaya Ahsan nor Anisur Rahman Milon would be the first actors to paint their faces a different shade for a particular role, nor would they be the last. Even in the Elizabethan era, actors would put on dark make-up to represent black characters.
Meanwhile, actors, and just about everyone in every hue of skin colour – starting from brides at weddings – have used make-up (in some cases advanced technology such as laser treatment) to lighten their skin colour.
Recently, Bollywood actors like Hritik Roshan and Bhumi Pednekar were heavily criticised for coming on screen with darkened skin tone. None of them were remorseful or apologetic about it.
However, being obsessed with fair skin is rooted deeper than we think and dates back thousands of years. In mythical stories, the Aryans were portrayed as tall, fair skinned, and the torch bearers of justice, whereas the Dravidians were dark skinned and troublemakers.
"Natives" and their brown skin was a topic of humour among British colonial rulers. Locals were often subjected to the slang 'kala aadmi' (black people).
Beauty has been associated with skin colour for perhaps too long. Anyone who has read Toni Morrison's "The Bluest Eye" might remember Pecola Breedlove's obsession with the fair, blonde Shirley Temple. The young girl would find excuses to drink out of the cup, just to get a glimpse of Shirley's face printed on it.
Every year, fairness product manufacturers around the world make profits in billions. Celebrities, too, happily endorse them. The absurd taglines run as far as fair skin can get you your dream job or the love of your life.
Veteran actor and social activist Sara Zaker thinks it is not offensive to paint one's face brown or black, the offensive part is the amount of struggle a dark skinned person has to do to get into the industry.
"It is an actor's right to do the things that a role demands. It is needed to mould into a particular character. However, the problem is the stereotypical idea of beauty that creates obstacles for women with dark skin," she said.
She also elaborated on how skin colour does not matter much for male actors or models.
"We cannot deny that there is a discrimination. If you look into the industry you will realise that skin colour, physique or age does not matter much for men but these are certainly issues for women," she said.
Veteran actor and producer Tariq Anam Khan also admitted that there is discrimination in the industry. But he also thinks the situation is improving as the so-called concepts of glamour are now changing.
"In my projects, I am always conscious about not promoting anything that might inspire colourism or racism. But when you are playing the role of a farmer for example, using make-up accordingly is not a crime," he said.
However, both Sara Zaker and Tariq Anam Khan admitted that ultimately it is quality that matters to survive in the industry.
Nevertheless, if an actor has a naturally dark skin, perhaps it would be better to cast them instead of casting those with lighter skin and then putting dark make-up on them. The year 2020 calls for better and actual representation of actors in our film and media industry.
Moreover, the popular celebrities, whom many youngsters look up to, should act more responsibly before endorsing fairness products and thus fuelling colourism.
Even popular world leaders have been called out for dressing up with blackened or browned faces years ago. What seemed hilarious back then is now being acknowledged as culturally offensive, derogatory and dehumanizing.
In 2018, a renowned soap brand in the country came up with a new slogan - fresh is beautiful, contrary to other similar brands in the market which heavily promotes fair, blemish-free skin. In a crowd of discriminative ads, this ad seemed like progress.
Although the initiative received heartfelt appreciation, the popularity of fairness creams has remained unaffected.
Till date, marriage advertisements in many newspapers seek a fair skinned partner. Out of the few, tight-knit adjectives to describe the potential bride or groom, the word 'forsha' (fair) and 'shundor' (beautiful) remain synonymous.
In the world of social media, sellers hold live sessions on Facebook to promote fairness products which claim fast results. What is interesting to note is that these actually garner a lot of customers. Some might snigger, but these magical soaps and creams actually sell.
In a recent incident, one seller was calling all the "black sisters" to use her product and see its miracle.
Professor Bokhtiar Ahmed of the department of Anthropology, University of Rajshahi, said that white fascination had begun from ancient times and it is still rampant in our advertising and beauty industry.
But the professor also feels that although most contested, racism is not merely related to skin colour, it is just one area among its many manifestations.