Breaking down the colour spectrum: Documentary examines global prejudice based on skin colour

Photo courtesy of Sepia Films

Photo courtesy of Sepia Films

Hue: A Matter of Colour, directed by Vic Sarin, is a poignant documentary that weaves the personal and global issues stemming from colourism with eloquent ease.

The film defines colourism with a quotation from Alice Walker, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Colour Purple, who calls it a “prejudicial or preferential treatment of same-race people based solely on their colour.”

Personal meets global

Vic Sarin, director of Hue: A Matter of Colour | Photo courtesy of Sepia Films

Vic Sarin, director of Hue: A Matter of Colour | Photo courtesy of Sepia Films

Right at the outset, Sarin frames the film’s globe-trekking journey with his own personal experience of struggle with colour consciousness. Born and raised in India, but having subsequently lived in Australia and Canada, Sarin immediately establishes an intimate stance with his interviewees and viewers alike.

“Since I was a young man, I’ve always felt as an outsider, and looking back, there is a connection between my behaviour and my upbringing within a colour conscious society,” narrates Sarin at the opening of the film, as he prepares to take his family to Brazil – a place whose vibrant ethnic mix he finds greatly reassuring.

By being transparent about struggling with his own identity, Sarin makes it clear that this documentary is not about detached observation, but rather a film that seamlessly combines his personal story with those of people sharing similar trials.

The documentary examines how people of the same race, ethnicity, and even from the same family, can abuse or treat one another differently based on skin colour.

Sarin intercuts the stories of the film’s protagonists in a manner that establishes a dialogue between them, while still maintaining the integrity of their individual voices.

Joyce Gladwell, a Jamaican-born author living in Ontario, declares that while observing the differences in colour is perhaps inevitable, classifying people based on those observations is what is unacceptable.

Sapna Abraham and Kavita Emmanuel of Women of Worth, an organization that fights for social acceptance of women of all colours in India, bring our attention to the fact that women of darker hue face a particularly strong prejudice in India and, for example, often have great difficulty marrying.

Colour-coded identities

Though the film devotes a lot of attention to describing colour prejudice as a corrosive social belief, many of its most poignant moments suggest that colourism is perhaps the most damaging and lasting when internalized.

Eva Abrahams, a South African minister and herself a woman of colour, discusses the apartheid legacy that she is fighting to eradicate, yet admits her own complicity in prejudice by sharing that she unconsciously discriminated against her own sister who was of a much darker colour.

The ability of the film’s protagonists to draw highly personal links between colourism as a social prejudice and a painful personal blueprint is also evident in the film’s controversial figure Elvie Pineda. The self-made tycoon, who made her fortune selling skin whitening products in her native Philippines, is candid about the brutal bullying that she underwent as a child because of her dark skin.

What is striking about Pineda is that despite continuing to make a profit out of feeding the obsession with white skin amongst Asian women, she admits that, despite having whitened her own face, she still loves and misses her natural colour. Pineda’s honesty in admitting that her business ethic is solely motivated by money, even though it contradicts her personal beliefs, is both refreshing and troubling.

The film’s most heartbreaking moments are also the most ironic ones. While depicting the plight of children born with albinism in Tanzania, who are murdered because of the superstition that potions made out of their organs have healing properties, Sarin muses on how even when whiteness is discriminated against, in a morbid way, it is still valorized.

Despite exposing the devastation of colour-motivated prejudice, most of the film’s protagonists are optimistic about growing positive change.

“I think there is a new generation of young people who are coming forward not thinking along in terms of colour,” muses Sapna Abraham.

It is this kind of hope interspersed with a fearless examination of prejudice that makes Hue: A Matter of Colour a must-see at this year’s Vancouver International Film Festival.

Hue: A Matter of Colour is playing at 10 am on Friday, October 11th at Vancity Theatre. For more information, check out