Thursday, May 13, 2010

film: RENEE THOMPSON in THE COLOR OF BEAUTY by Director Elizabeth St. Philip

Yesterday I stumbled upon this website called WORK FOR ALL: Films Against Racism In The Workplace ( )
The Colour of Beauty is a short documentary about racial discrimination in the fashion industry. Director Elizabeth St. Philip follows a young and fiercely talented Black model, Renee Thompson, as she navigates the fashion world as a visible minority.

After watching this film yesterday, I began thinking about my place in this industry as a photographer.... and then as a BLACK photographer. I am often frustrated by how slanted this industry is when it comes opportunities for models of color. I do appreciate agencies, like Major Model Mgmt. who support my vision as an artist in this industry.

I try to provide images that parallel the images successful models (who are usually white) have in their portfolios for the models of color I work with, but those images never make it to their book because the idea of treating all models equally is not ideal - models of color end up with a boring, forgettable portfolio presentation and remain in a box with limited opportunities and the white models an unfair advantage.

I think it also sucks that many photographers, stylist, fashion designers of color go all out of their way to mask their race  by working with mostly white models. Some go to the extremes of changing their name and even lying about their background so industry people will assume they are white. I am very proud of who I am and the fact that I am a black man from the south making moves in this industry. I resist the pressures to hide my race  because I want to use my influence to represent my people in this business. I am proud that my work helps this industry to see models of color the same way their white counterparts are viewed. It allows them to be on a more equal playing ground - giving the models of color a fair chance.

I grew up during the height of the supermodel craze.... with models of color like Tyra Banks, Naomi Campbell, Tyson Beckford, Jason Olive, Veronica Webb, Beverly Peele, Roshumba, Sekou Carradine,Will LeMay, Daisy Fuentez and so many more..... seeing them made me hopeful. I wanted to see more colored faces and I really believed I could contribute to this industry.

After last years, Vogue Italia "Black" issue, I attempted to put together a portrait series that celebrated the black male models in the industry called IM2: The Invisible Men Project - I never expected to receive resistance from the models and their agents - especially since I had worked with so many of them in the beginning stages of their careers. I even had an agent tell me directly that had i been a big named white photographer, he would allow his working models to be apart of the project. The models themselves were either too afraid to do it on their own or just weren't interested because they are booking some jobs. I can't do it by myself so i'm scrapping  the project....for now.

I think this film is a great way to spark real dialogue that might help open the eyes of designers, editors, and agents in this industry....
This film asks the questions: Why isn’t the multi-cultural society that we live in reflected in our magazines, on billboards and on the runways of fashion shows? And who are the parties involved in this industry’s lack of diversity? Does the answer lie somewhere in the back rooms of fashion magazines or in the offices of casting directors of fashion shows? Is it something that is discussed at advertising agencies, or between designers and modeling agencies? Whatever the answer, the fact is that models of color work less, and their chances of success are very low.

Everytime I do a post about this issue I feel people going "oh lawrd, not this again" but I will continue to use my internet presence to discuss this issues until other people within the industry step up and take a chance and catch up with the diverse world we are living in now.

And what do you think? Work For All in partnership with Schema Magazine is launching a quest for your stories about how racism affects the world of fashion. And, they are launching a live event with our other partner The Museum of Vancouver. Find out more about this contest and event at Schema Magazine.


  1. Tarrice, there's a difference between having a rant and having a cause and you have the latter. thanks for sharing this video!

  2. I agree, and it's hard not to get frustrated sometimes, bc it becomes evident the racial dilemma in the fashion industry, when you ACTIVELY try to present minority models in an interesting way or similar to their white counterparts and it's basically not used or thrown in the trash.

  3. Very Informative. Makes me want to help more and I will do so when I go spend my money with the name brand labels that only believe whites spends money.... Shereka

  4. Though I do agree with you Tarrice, we have to remember to look at the big picture. The fashion industry is a very "niche-driven" industry. Those brands are marketing to people who share their views of race (for the most part or so they like to think) and like us, they want to see their ideas of themselves. Though there are lots of people of color in this country, blacks still only make up roughly 13.5% of the population, and in relation to fashion, a lot less than that.
    Before I continue, I don't want to make it seem like a agree with the b/s that goes on BUT...I'm completely over the complaining. Sorry. Why do they have to change THEIR brands just to accommodate our passions? Yes, we buy their clothes but that's by choice. If we don't like what they are doing, we can show it in our numbers (blacks make up a HUGE part of the shopping being done, that's a whole different issue lol). Stop buying their products!
    It's almost like we are waiting for them to VALIDATE OUR OWN BEAUTY. It's draining man. We both know their are TONS of blacks and other races in the fashion industry. We are all capable, intelligent, extremely talented and creative individuals. There is NO REASON why we need "those people" to see ourselves the way we would like to be viewed. There isn't even a way of justifying that.
    What is really comes down to is, artist (photographers, models, stylist, designers and publications etc.)being mad at the industry for not supporting our passions. But wait...there's good news! WE CAN CHANGE ALL THAT! There are too many able-bodied creative people in this industry not to take the first step. We have to learn to do for ourselves again and find the support from OUR OWN to do so! I think we've subconsciously been taught, as a 'culture' to complain about all our injustices and "pray" something or someone changes. We have to change them ourselves! You can't be mad at them for putting in the magazines what they like. This isn't an original idea...I just think we forgot it. They know it all too well.

  5. hey deadbeat,
    I agree with alot of what you wrote. I never needed white people to VALIDATE MY BEAUTY nor do I want them to change THEIR brands to accommodate my passions. I use my work to inspire other black people to see my ideas of ourselves especially since we do make up a large percent of the purchasing power in this country. I never had issues with white people...I have issues with us - my own black people. The majority of the "racism" i have experienced has come from the black agents, black stylist, black muas, black hairstylist, black casting directors, and of course... the black photographers who use their talents and resources to VALIDATE someone else's idea of beauty while turning a blinds eye to our own beauty. It more of them than I ever realized....People of color have more power than most know...we are this industry

    I use my artistry to show models in the light want them to be seen especially the black ones. Walking into the agencies and being intentional about choosing black models has become my double edged sword....but necessary in using my power. I am looking at the big picture. I am defining who I am and my worth with my work.
    Its kind of funny/sad that the main people who really have a genuine respect for the work I do and support my aesthetic are my fellow white artist, white agents, and white models, ect......smh