Making Brown Skin Beautiful on Screen

Brown skin has always been beautiful, but with advancements in technology and more inclusive filmmaking, audiences in the West finally get to see it.

Ishani Nath

September 29, 2022

Making Brown Skin Beautiful on Screen
Priya Guns as Malai (This Place)

One of the most memorable scenes from This Place, a queer love story set in Toronto, Canada,  is not one of conflict, laugh-out-loud humor, or heartbreaking drama. Malai (Priya Guns), a young Tamil Canadian woman living in Toronto, is sitting in a café, facing the window and waiting for Kawenniióhstha (Devery Jacobs). The sunlight rests on her skin, making her radiate with beauty and confidence. Even before the two characters interact or deliver any dialogue, that scene speaks volumes. 

When film technology was initially developed, it failed to consider Brown and Black skin tones. As a result, actors of color have a long history of appearing ashy, washed out, or lacking detail on screen. “You kind of get used to the untrue visual version of what people look like,” said V.T. Nayani, director and co-writer of This Place and the first Tamil Canadian filmmaker to screen a feature at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). 

With Nayani’s debut film, showcasing the beauty and reality of different skin tones was a priority — correcting a fundamental flaw of filmmaking that became far more evident in recent decades. “I wanted to be authentic and honor exactly what is in real life, so people don’t get surprised anymore by seeing themselves as they deserve,” she said.