They Made Brown Beautiful

Are You Darker Than A Paper Bag?

My Thesis examines how African American beauty was marginalized through laws over hundreds of years. The story examines some moments in time that left a mark in history on my people. These marks shaped what we think is beautiful and continues to limit us today.

Dark skin was not attractive and over the years we have tried to convince them to lighten their skin if they want to be. In 1910s and 20s, women like Nina Mae McKinney could not play mammy roles because of her light skin and European features. She was a talented singer and dancer who scored so big the all African American movie Hallelujah (1929) that she became the first African American to be signed to a 5 year movie deal.

With this deal, she was limited to playing maids and servants. She knew she would never make it as a star being a maid so she moved to France, which welcomed her with open arms.

Nina Mae McKinney is a woman who used her talent despite what others thought. Her beauty is not only in how she looks but in how she lived. She didn’t let them stifle her talent.

The only role models little African American girls saw on the big screen in the United States were maids and servants for many decades. Generations grew up thinking beauty was for fair skinned and Flaxen hair as one author put it. We didn’t think brown skin and kinky hair had much value.

But times are changing. My new book More Than A Color will tell the story.