Is beauty skin deep? Filipina-Canadian filmmaker explores skin shadeism within her culture

Winnipeg filmmaker Joanne Roberts has been told her skin is too dark by other Filipinos.

In her new, short film I am, Roberts probes the effects of such comments on her own sense of self-worth and her own struggles with shadeism.

Roberts and filmmaker Alex Decebel-Cuza created the short film for CBC Manitoba’s Creator Network, which works with storytellers from across Manitoba to tell their stories.

Roberts on her film: 

I am a woman of colour, the daughter of immigrants, and a first-generation Canadian. 

In my experience, Asian culture and beauty revolves around Western standards. Light skin is beautiful and dark skin is ugly.

I used to be pressured into beauty products that erased my Asian features and lightened my naturally tan skin. But these teachings and societal norms — are they really true?

Filmmaker Joanne Roberts has struggled with accepting her own skin shade. In her new, personal short film I am, the Filipina artist wrestles with the idea of the perfect skin tone and what that means for her and her peers. (Alexander Decebel-Cuza)

In summer 2020, I had the pleasure of sharing space with the most wonderful group of Brown womxn (an inclusive term that welcomes all trans, non-binary and gender-queer people) from all over the world during the Shades of Brown Girl Creative Storytelling Workshop.

For the first time in my life, I was able to examine my cultural roots as someone who identifies as Filipinx (identifying as gender queer member of Filipino(a) diaspora).

Before now, I was ashamed to reveal my identity. These powerful souls (participants in the workshop) taught me that despite societal pressures to look a certain way and to conform to a certain Asian stereotype, we are all beautiful. Our culture is magnificent. Our food is delectable. We can wear hybridity like royalty. 

About the filmmakers

Joanne Roberts is an award-winning Canadian filmmaker and TV, film and theatre actress. Most recently, she has appeared in the Crave series Edgar (2020) and the feature film I Propose We Never See Each Other Again After Tonight (2020). 

Roberts speaks out about systemic racism and safety in the arts community and shares her own experiences publicly. She works to reveal discrepancies in the treatment and hiring of minorities in the arts. She also advocates for diversity, equal treatment, and opportunity through her own projects and hiring practices.

Alex Decebal-Cuza is a filmmaker based in Winnipeg. (Submitted by Alex Decebal-Cuza)

Alexander Decebal-Cuza is a filmmaker based in Winnipeg. Decebal-Cuza has worked as a camera assistant and director of photography. Starting off with portraiture and photojournalism, he quickly found a passion in visual storytelling and started to explore the film industry. When he isn’t making films, Decebal-Cuza is working as the photo editor for The Manitoban newspaper.

See more from CBC Manitoba’s Creator Network.