Clare Anyiam-Osigwe, a first-time director, is enjoying the type of success usually reserved for veteran filmmakers. Her film debut, No Shade is a witty, wry romantic story that shines a bright light on the troubling issue of colorism.
Anyiam-Osigwe, a Nigerian British entrepreneur and an emerging talent in the film industry, wrote and directed the film, which she completed in six-and-a-half days. Produced by the British Urban Film Festival (BUFF), the film had successful premieres in Cannes, France; Washington, D.C.; London; as well as a world festival premiere at the Rio Cinema in Dalston in this past June. It was the official selection at the Women of The Lens Film Festival, Da Bounce Urban Film Festival, BUFF and the Greater Cleveland Urban Film Festival.
The independent filmmaker said that earlier this month, she and her husband Emmanuel negotiated a deal with Diarah N’Daw-Spech, director at Artmattan Productions, which acquired U.S. rights to the film.
On November 28, Artmattan will screen the movie at the N.Y. African Diaspora International Film Festival (ADIFF) in New York, followed by a limited release with digital and home entertainment releases to follow exclusively across North America.
And on November 30, the film will open in New York City at the Cinema Village Theatre.
Since its release, No Shade has captured the film-going public’s imagination as it explores the hardships dark-skinned women in Britain face in the dating world and is reigniting some difficult conversations in Black and other circles.
Black women’s’ experiences are complicated by the fetishization of light-skinned women and their White counterparts by Black men. The film traces the travails of Jade, a photographer who has a series of jarring dates with oblivious interested in a certain type of woman but not her. The film is straightforward and raw, leaving viewers (particularly Black men) to ponder any number of questions about the people they choose and why.
“This is a film you can only pray for,” said Anyiam-Osigwe, reacting to the film’s success. “It has made me feel really proud. It was my first script, my first script ever.”
Too often, she said, a disturbing number of Black British men have no desire to date dark-skinned women, choosing instead to pursue relationships with Caucasian, light-skinned Black or racially ambiguous women. And professional Black men in the entertainment industry are notorious perpetuators of misogynoir.
Although she went to drama school, wrote for a number of publications, is an award-winning dermatologist and founded PremaeUK Skincare, Anyiam-Osigwe said the move to directing has been a smooth one.
“In all fairness it was pretty easy. My husband sold and produced films before and I did public relations,” she said. “I depended a little bit on unknown synergy but I was not poking too much in the dark. I had an idea of what to do and who to call. While I was writing I couldn’t hide anywhere. I was still working as a dermatologist so I took time off of social media. The great thing about being a working professional is that you can set your own schedule.”
Anyiam-Osigwe, who also co-stars in the film, said she’s particularly proud of the fact that she and her husband made the film without the assistance or support of any studio or public or private funding. The topic, she said, is timely and socially relevant because the Blacks in Britain are grappling with colorism, beauty standards, and accepting themselves while building self-esteem.
“I feel really great that I’ve made something of social relevance,” she explained. “Black men, mostly West Indian men, are dating White women. It’s a conscious choice but there’s an awakening going on among Black Brits. There’s a lot of talk online. I don’t expect things to change overnight but I’m pleased that this film has really helped have a deeper context.
“This is a complex issue. Because most Black men don’t have a strong Black man in their house, there is this disconnect,” said Anyiam-Osigwe, co-founder of BUFF Originals. “They’re already a feeling of abandonment and disadvantage. Hair? Skin? Loud voice? Attitude. It’s a serious thing to understand because your Black mum raised you.”
“The film is politically charged. It’s showing you some truths.
The biggest thing for me is that you should be able to date and love, whoever you want. Colorism is degrading the Black woman. It’s very, very rare that Black women will go out and talk about Black skin. But as a beautician/dermatologist you talk to people and overhear so many conversations that you’re privy to. I pay attention and as someone trained as actress and director, I was trained to listen.”
Anyiam-Osigwe said a “real mix” of people (White, Black and apprehensive mixed-race people) has been coming to see the film and the reaction has been very positive.
“The film is still hot on people’s minds,” she said. “People are still coming back since the first screening in June. It’s still on their minds and stirring discussion.”
Black women, she asserts, live in a hostile beauty environment. The problems they often face are socially wrenching and Anyiam-Osigwe recalled the angst of some of her friends who’ve been dismissed, marginalized or rejected by Black men. Some of those stories are in the film.
Anyiam-Osigwe said the corrosive nature of the men’s attitudes and the resulting internalized self-hatred and damage to Black women’s self-esteem is sometimes hard to overcome.
But there is another element of the equation too.
“A lot of my fair-skinned girlfriends will ‘thief’ a man up,” Anyiam-Osigwe said. “They make him pay, rinse him. Light-skinned girls and White girls can get away with that. They know their power in the moment. The ‘hot lighties’ are fulfilling a fantasy for him and her needs aren’t usually being fulfilled. As teens, fair-skinned women lap up the attention, love the love. But in their 20s, they want more. But these same men don’t want to spend any money on a Black girl.”
The director, who grew up in foster care, said she was bullied as a child, called an “African bum cleaner,” and was told that she looked like a gorilla, but said she’s a proud Black woman. In a BBC film clip promoting the film, Anyiam-Osigwe went further: “The rhetoric for me since I was 14 was that I was pretty for a dark-skinned girl. This, to me, was deeply disrespectful, because I’m a very proud Igbo, Nigerian, British-born woman and my heritage, my mom, my aunties who have those traditional African features, I think they’re stunning.”
In August 2013, Anyiam-Osigwe was featured by Forbes Africa as one of the five most influential women in business and the youngest female entrepreneur to be featured in this category. And four years later, Queen Elizabeth II made Anyiam-Osigwe a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) for services to dermatologists and for her award-winning creams and foundations from PremaeUK Skincare.
Now, she’s set on conquering the film industry.
“It’s kind of unheard of to have such coverage for a first-time filmmaker,” said Anyi-am-Osigwe.
“Historically, in the last 25 years of (British) cinema, I’m the sixth Black woman to get a U.K. theatrical release. And that’s a seven-day run. We’ve sold out at each venue, but they won’t give us a longer run. We see the body counts for some films and it’s nothing to what we brought through No Shade. They say it’s a local Black drama. There’s a part of me that likes to take a no and move on, but I prefer to show and prove. They say I’m not an auteur yet. How will I become an auteur if I don’t even get the chance? White independent filmmakers get funding; they get seen. Black girls struggle.”
Regardless of naysayers and the challenges, Anyiam-Osigwe said she’s intensely proud of her film.
“I consider this a work of art, a passion project,” she said. “It’s making people think more about female directors and black females. A couple of people said the film was very glossy. They weren’t expecting it to be that way. It’s about saying look at what we can do with a little.”