Director Vic Sarin’s latest documentary, Hue: A Matter of Colour, touches on the painful experiences of colourism and the bias towards lighter skin around the world.
Story by Rumnique Nannar
Colorism (ˈkʌlərɪzəm). Noun. A type of discrimination in which people are judged on the basis of their skin colour. (Collins Dictionary)
With a career spanning 30 years in Canadian cinema, Vic Sarin is an industry veteran whose work has kept him behind the camera, until now. In Hue: A Matter of Colour, the filmmaker shares a deeply personal and touching story about the real experiences of discrimination that people face around the world. This documentary comes at interesting time as the Dark is Beautiful campaign grows in India and the discussion continues about the public backlash that Miss America Nina Davuluri faced based on her race and skin colour.
We were fortunate to speak with Vic about his film in a very candid interview. While we may not agree with every aspect of Vic’s approach to this issue, he offers an interesting, honest look at the man and the amazing people behind this documentary. (This story features edited excerpts from a longer interview conducted with Vic Sarin in Vancouver.)
Jugni Style: This film was a personal journey for you. What made you want to take such an approach?
Vic Sarin: The NFB a few years ago asked me if I wanted to do a film and I said yes. They liked my ideas except they said you need to be in the film. That was a no-no as I feel much more comfortable behind the camera. So, the more I thought about it, it made sense not only for political correctness but for me to relate to these people. So they said, “Vic you have to be there or they’re not gonna talk.” And I don’t want to do intellectual films, who am I to judge? So my intention was to do a personal one, to show how I feel, not how I think.
I really liked the universal approach you took to the colourism debate, as you talk to people worldwide instead of focusing on only one country like India. How did this come about?
I didn’t want to make it an only Indian film, just because I was born there doesn’t make me an expert on that. They [NFB] had asked me to go to India, but this consciousness is not just an Indian thing, its elsewhere like China, the Philippines, and lots of places.
You feature the Dark is Beautiful campaign in your film. Do you think movements like these are helping the problem?
I was taken aback at what they were doing and how openly they were trying to tell people about the issue. In one sense, I admired them but I also admired the system for letting that happen too. It’s an open society, that’s as much as you can ask for. It’s a very positive movement, and with them being out in the open and saying ‘enough is enough’ is very good.
Do you think we need more accountability from the media and sponsors to shape the debate?
As I say in the film, it’s not going to come from outside it needs to come from the inside and how you feel about yourself. Of course external forces affect this, children are subjected to the bias or perhaps it’s people who are not so educated that are more influenced by this. I think majority of people who are conscious of it or practice this are the people who have a certain education but are biased. Those people and how to change their mindset is a big question mark, and it’s up to them to look within. How to get to a higher consciousness is education.
The section with Elvie Pineda, a skin-whitening industry mogul in the Philippines, was interesting, as she still missed her dark skin but was so upfront about her business.
What was interesting was that throughout this journey, once people felt at home with me and after keeping [their stories] in them for so long, they wanted to bring it up. As I said to Elvie, even though we are successful we still think we are not quite there. Women are much more connected to this issue so they are more emotional and human, and they suffer a lot more because of this issue than men. So I think there’s a reason for her and the other women being more upfront on both ends trying to be lighter and speaking against the bias.
You’ve said the film works on a human level, how did that approach work given the theory around colourism?
In the older days, there used to be the issue of people saying “you’re bad or you’re good” and you felt bad about yourself, but the world is much larger so it’s less dictated by that. Ultimately, not to be conscious of this colour issue is for people to find a confidence that what they have is something special. Quite often, I find people blaming the politicians or ohh it’s the white people, it’s so easy to do that. None of these people say, what about me, myself? That’s why I don’t do political or intellectual films because I’m not the expert and if I am it can be hard to shift views in the longterm so it appeals in a gut-level way.
You cover apartheid, skin-whitening and overcoming discrimination through each person you interview. How did these testimonies affect your structural approach to the film?
What attracted me to these subjects was how they felt about it [discrimination] in their lives and they are all different stories and they ring true. So you have the story of Elvie who was possibly abused and took whatever she could and made a success of it. And I showed at the opposite end Eva (the South African nun) who’s almost white herself but her sister was dark and not realizing what it was doing to her. And the albino stories, I’m doing a big film on them which I’m just about finished on. What a sad story, people had said “Vic this is a different story.” It isn’t. I’m still talking about skin colour because even in their deaths [writer’s note: albino children in Tanzania are killed with their body parts sold off on the black market] people want their colour. The dealers say that you’ll be rich and you’ll flourish if you have this kid’s arm in your house. And even Sapna, from India. I had to put her in there because she was so real. Her story is of countless women who are rejected for marriage proposals. I liked Renato a lot. He and I related very strongly, because I’m like him too in that “it’s what you have not what you don’t have, so let’s work on it,” you know? I was watching the closing ceremony of the Olympics and there he is! I like that he made something of sweeping and dancing and everyone loves him.
You have also experienced the colonial practices as a diasporic man living in Australia, Canada, and India. Where do you feel the roots to this issue stem from?
I think colonialism, you could talk about for hours, so I don’t know how much of it is how you see the world and your glasses. Partly it’s the fault of people of colour too because you do gravitate to people with blonde hair and blue eyes. You like them, then you feel automatically that you’re not as good as they are because they’re prettier in your mind. Lets not kid here as you’ve already taken a second to doubt though you can rebel. But majority of people still have that stigma, so where it came from I don’t care about. I’m interested in how I react to that and how I feel about it today. Theories don’t interest me, I maintain that it’s a combination of many things to make us feel that way. We have to elevate our own consciousness from within.
The film ends on an optimistic note with you going to the beach, and Renato’s success. What fuelled the need to have a happier ending for this ongoing issue?
Well, all the films I do, it’s very important to me to touch a human level and secondly to give people hope. This journey that we take should be a nice and comfortable experience so I tend to go for that.
Hue: A Matter of Colour plays at the Vancouver International Film Festival as part of the Canadian Images series on October 11, 2013.
Do you agree with Vic Sarin’s approach to the colourism debate and who holds responsibility for ending this type of discrimination? Let us know in the comments below.
Story By: Rumnique Nannar | Photography: Austin Andrews