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But Not Too Black

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Not even Beyoncé is exempt from this trope.

"They said, 'If you was white, you'd be alright
If you was brown, stick around
But as you is black, oh brother,
Get back, get back, get back'"
Big Bill Broonzy, "Black, Brown, and White" (1947)

After a long struggle in gaining visibility and acceptance in the entertainment world, ethnically-African American actors and actresses have many more opportunities in Hollywood and on television than they ever had before. Some have become huge stars in their own right. Unfortunately, as these new opportunities grew, a new dark side of 'racial' bias emerged.

Or should we say: "a new light side."

Fair skin is a common beauty standard by some cultures, one strengthened by Euro-centrism ('the West'note  produces or influences much of the world's media). However, most of the world's population is possessed of brown skin tones of varying shades. As the trope title states, this hits ethnic Africans particularly hard; some 'Western' casting directors are in the habit of only—or mostly—hiring non-European actors and actresses with lighter skin tones because they assume that they will be more relatable to their largely ethnic-European or European-descent audiences. Black actresses are hit even harder (as detailed here) due to Eurocentric beauty standards favoring fair skin for women.


In a word, this phenomenon has been called "colourism." Colourism can also come down to a latent class bias: worldwide, lighter skin (relative to one's own people) has typically been associated with wealth and lounging around indoors, and darker with poverty and working in the fields.note  Not until the post-war period did the trends start to reverse; the only country not devastated by The War, the USA, led a new trend which saw those with wealth being able to afford extended vacations or holidays, and the sun-induced tans that came with them, while the reduced number of people employed in agriculture meant that poor people were more likely to spend their workdays indoors in factories (or later call centres and offices) instead of out in the fields.


Skin colour is only the most obvious manifestation of the underlying theme of casting people on the basis of something other than their acting style and/or ability. For example, an Asian actor might be asked to cover his eyes or a black actress asked to straighten her hair. Colourism is a subset of "degreeism" in which members of a marginalized group rank themselves based on how closely they resemble the dominant group.

Variations of this casting trope are also seen in Latin America, Northern Africa/Western Asia, and East Asia. This trope is a common source of Unfortunate Implications; given this trope's prevalence throughout the world's entertainment industries, there are numerous variations on this trope listed below. Note also how the changing definitions of desirability have resulted in new and/or different hiring biases over time. This can actually go the other way round too, particularly in casting from people who are attempting to avert this trope; where mixed race or lighter skinned actors can be turned down for not being "black enough". Of course in that case, the ideal solution would be to represent more characters beyond the Token Minority - allowing for more diversity in skin tones.

Also see But Not Too Foreign, Mixed Ancestry is Attractive, and Ambiguously Brown. Contrast with But Not Too White (though it's not the trope's total opposite) and Half-Breed Discrimination.

Compare The Whitest Black Guy for when black characters are said to be 'acting white' as opposed to 'looking white.' Not to be confused with Light Is Not Good or Pass Fail, though it can be somewhat related to the latter insofar as the casting choice is concerned.

Not related to the sitcom black•ish, though the show does deal with this trope as a running theme.


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  • Commercials would have you believe that all little black girls and not a few of the boys have long, curly, free-flowing hair when not only is the hair type fairly uncommon but braids and otherwise restrained hairstyles are much more usual and practical for small black children.
  • Hilariously U by Kotex overtly lampshade this trope in this commercial.
  • The skin-lightening cream "Fair and Lovely" is sold in India and the Middle East. The commercials often feature pretty women who feel insecure because of their dark skin, and sometimes feel it's holding them back for some reason or another. But here's what makes them fall directly into this trope: the women already have very light skin to begin with. This is one of the ads, and there are plenty of others. Unilever, also makes Dove soaps and shampoos, which has been having one of those "Feel beautiful in your own body!" campaigns in the US. This is more Values Dissonance as in India, lightening your skin is considered the same as getting a tan is in the West. However even among some Indians this is viewed rather negatively.
    • The same kinds of creams appeared in African-American periodicals right up until the late 70s. While the language became more subtle throughout the years (referring to skin as "glowing" rather than "light"), the before and after pictures always gave away the underlying message: you're not pretty if you're dark.
    • It has been noted that skin creams that lighten your skin, that are sharply targeted towards blacks and Asians, are considered to be dangerous (physically, not just socially!). Decades ago there was a much worse product aimed at black people in the US to 'lighten' their skin. It involved giving them a hefty dose of X-rays. It lightened their skin, all right, and killed a good many of them rather quickly as well. In primarily Indian or Pakistani neighborhoods in Dubai, there are billboards advertising skin lightening cream. The model on the billboard is usually a very light skinned Indian in a business suit. Obviously, this is meant to imply that having lighter skin will increase your chances of being successful. Skin lightening creams are also popular in India. Most Bollywood actresses are very light, because it's very difficult for dark-skinned women to get acting jobs in India. Even in South Indian regional films, directors often prefer to cast North Indian actresses, as they tend to be fairer. And like Beyoncé, they can be made to look even lighter on camera. There are a few actresses with tan or wheatish skin, who are often touted as "dark beauties", but rarely do you find truly dark actresses. Parminder Nagra (E.R. and Alcatraz), considered by some to be one of the most beautiful women in the world does have skin color about middle or average for Indian, but you wouldn't know it from her IMDb cover photo however...
    • There's a market in Kenya and Uganda where women buy products that bleaches their skin. It's outlawed in Kenya, but they are still able to buy the products due to smuggling. The products in question are extremely unhealthy, since it gives the women cancer and causes chronic skin poisoning. They use it anyway, because they want to look prettier. What's worse is that they are all encouraged by the culture assuming that women with lighter skin have more advantages than women with the average black skin.
    • In some places it's assumed that women with lighter skin have more advantages than a woman with the average black skin, a huge medical concern in the Caribbean, where darker women are literally rubbing laundry bleach on their and their children's skin.
  • The 2012 Acura commercial (starring Jerry Seinfeld and Jay Leno) casting call asked for a "nice looking, friendly, not too dark" African-American car dealer.
  • This promotional picture for Syfy series Eureka shows Alison Blake (played by the half-black Salli Richardson-Whitfield) as being much lighter skinned than she is in real life.
  • Another L'Oreal ad featuring Beyonce, this time promoting True Match, and showcasing her skin color.
  • Particularly jarring contrasts abound in some East Asian countries where ads with white models are fairly common; the native Asian models are often so heavily whitened they look paler than the actual white models. All you need to do is look at the people walking next to the ads to see the Asian models are often several shades lighter than normal.

    Anime & Manga 
  • The Ambiguously Brown Setsuna of Sailor Moon was originally drawn significantly darker than the rest of the cast. When the anime rolled around, it depended on the artist but she was often as light as the others. In the Sera Myu musicals, she almost always, if not always, has the same skin tone as everyone else.
  • An aversion: In the manga version of Get Backers, Kudou Himiko was originally shown to have slightly darker skin than the rest of the cast. As the series progressed and gained a serious Art Evolution, her skin got darker and darker until, by the time the manga ended, she was closer in skin tone to black characters than the rest of the white cast. (Her race or ethnic background is never addressed, and her brother was drawn with a similar skin color.) The anime kept her at "slightly darker than the main cast", looking more like she just had a tan than she was of a different ethnicity than the main cast.
  • A case of this appears in the adaptation of Hetalia: Axis Powers' from manga to anime. The manga gave the characters a variety of skin tones, but in the anime everyone except for Cuba was the same color, with Seychelles and Egypt being particularly noticeable examples. This was eventually fixed in season five when Studio DEEN brought in a new animation team.
  • Evil Chancellor Agrippa from ∀ Gundam in contrast to the typical Ambiguously Brown anime character look, he has fairly prominent African features, but passes the paper bag test with flying colours. This is probably to make him a visual contrast to his opposite number from the Earth faction, the similarly scheming Guin Rhineford, who looks like a classic Phenotype Stereotype who's been trying to give himself melanoma at the tanning salon.
  • Nadia from Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water, was going to have curly hair, according to early drafts. She ended up having smooth hair and less dark skin, and the official explanation is that her character design was made simpler by the fear of the outsourced animation company quality of work.
  • Inverted in Hellsing Ultimate.
    • Integra's skin looks darker compared to the manga.
    • Also inverted big time with Jan Valentine. In the Manga, he is portrayed as being light skinned like the rest of the cast, whereas in both of the anime series, his skin is even darker than Integra's.
  • Inverted with Kei in Prétear: he had light skin in the manga, but the anime used a completely different character design with brown skin tone.
  • One Piece:
    • When Nico Robin returned after the Time Skip in the anime, her formerly dark skin was all but gone, leaving her looking about 3 shades whiter. Which caused much bitterness among fans especially since Robin had been also depicted as tan in all One Piece movies (until One Piece Film: Strong World) and games up to that point. Though to be fair Oda did state Robin would be Russian Real Life therefore more likely to be white. Also, she was always light-skinned in the manga. It's the anime that darkened her for whatever reason and then after the timeskip lightened her to better match the manga.
    • Zoro and Usopp had visible tan-skin prior to timeskip in contrast to the far whiter crewmates (Luffy, Nami and Sanji). But in New World, they've got a far lighter skin tone, somewhat making sense in Zoro's case since according to Eiichiro Oda, he would be Japanese in real life, but for Usopp, who would be African... it's ridiculous. note 
  • Michiko & Hatchin has Atsuko Jackson, a mixed Afro-Japanese cop with blonde hair and blue eyes. It's possible she wears contact lenses, but she's shown with the blonde hair even as a child.
  • Berserk: Dark-skinned and Ambiguously Brown Casca is portrayed with significantly lighter skin and hair in the later animated adaptations. The film trilogy makes her more of a light tan compared to the medium brown she was in the manga and the '97 show, which some of fans who appreciated the unique appearance Miura originally gave her were very unhappy about. At first it seemed like Berserk (2016) made her skin almost as white as the European-looking main character Guts, which created a similar uproar, but this turned out to be mostly caused by the high contrast visual effects applied to the flashbacks. In normal lighting (CGI) she looks about the same shade as in the Golden Age movies, albeit with more reddish-brown hair as opposed to dark brown hair in the movies and black hair in the manga and '97 anime.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist:
    • Some of the official art lightens Paninya's skin, despite the fact that she's dark-skinned.
    • Inverted in the 2003 Anime, which darkened Rosé Thomas, though the manga portrayed her as having the same skin tone as the Elrics. Brotherhood reverted her to the lighter version, although a lot of fans seem to prefer her darker.
  • Anthy Himemiya was a racially ambiguous (though likely Indian) love interest in Revolutionary Girl Utena with noticeably dark skin and kinky, wavy hair that made her stand out against the rest of cast; the video game supplement to the series even made her skin darker than it was in-series. However, when The Movie rolled out, Anthy's design was completely overhauled, and her previously dark skin was lightened to the point of looking barely tanned, and due to the Faux Symbolism of the series seemingly swaps hair type with Utena and now has very long, straight hair while Utena's is shown to be very wavy when not pinned down by braids.
  • Some controversy has arisen over the fact that the international Cures from HappinessCharge Pretty Cure!....don't look very international, aside from their costumes. Even the Cures from India and Egypt are suspiciously pale.
  • Pokémon: The Series:
    • Iris in Pokémon the Series: Black & White is noticeably lighter than her game's official art. She instead matches her sprite design, which possibly means that the anime based her design on her sprite's skin tone rather than her actual colour.
    • Skyla from the same arc in comparison is inverted. In the games she's light-skinned but in the anime she's slightly darker.
    • In a non-black but still skin tone example, the tan-skinned and Eyes Always Shut Brock was temporarily replaced with light-skinned Tracey during the Orange Islands arc of Pokémon: The Original Series because it was thought Brock was "too Asian" looking for international audiences. He was brought back by the end of the arc and Tracey was regulated to cameos.
  • Pokémon Adventures: In Viz's colorings for the XY mini-volume covers, both Shauna and Emma are considerably lightened. In Emma's case, it's extra egregious considering an earlier, original colored image of her had her even darker than her game counterpart.
  • Similar to the anime, Iris in the Truer to the Text Pokémon Generations is still Off-Model compared to her game artwork. She's darker than in the main anime but still not as dark as her official artwork.

  • Comedian Paul Mooney joked about these people being "Double Agents", and only choosing to be Black when it's convenient for them.

    Comic Books 
  • X-Men:
    • Though Storm is quite dark, she has white hair and blue eyes (when they're not completely whited out when she uses her powers), said to be marks of her bloodline, and for years was drawn with semi-European features. This comes from an early idea to give her features from different races — dark skin, light hair and Asian-featured eyes — to make her resemble Gaia. Later works, particularly during the lead-up to her marriage to Black Panther, actually drew mild fan criticism for the change of her facial structure.
    • X-Men colorists must be fond of this trope, because M's skin tone is in a constant state of flux. The official Marvel site had an article celebrating their black heroes, and Monet is included as one of the examples. When she first appeared in Generation X she had caramel skin. Towards the end of the book it was chocolate. When she was floating between titles it went back to caramel. During her stint in X-Factor, she could be, and was, mistaken for white by readers. She had very pale skin, along with turquoise eyes. PAD mentioned getting complaints from fans, who wondered why Monet was suddenly white. In response, they mentioned gradually making her darker again. So by the run's end, her skin was more caramel-looking, but still very light. In Uncanny X-Men (2016), she has a more brown complexion, though not as dark as her chocolate self in latter Generation X chapters. Currently, she's in Generation X (2017) upon Resurr Xion, and her complexion has become more light caramel again.
    • Sunspot's skin has been lightened over the years, along with a possible Race Lift. Sunspot is Brazilian, specifically of mixed-race Afro-Brazilian and White Brazilian descent and was drawn with dark skin with wavy hair and black features. As the decades passed, Sunspot's skin has gotten lighter and lighter and now in his appearances in New Avengers and U.S.Avengers make him look like what most Americans think Latino people look like. X-Men: Days of Future Past has Adan Canto (a Mexican actor of mixed Amerindian/White descent) as Sunspot, further complicating the issue. Fox finally cast a Brazilian actor, Henry Zaga, as Sunspot for The New Mutants but he is very light-skinned.
  • Justice League of America issues have drawn criticism for portraying Vixen with European features and fluctuating skin tones.
  • Depending on who is drawing him, Karate Kid from the Legion of Super-Heroes often looks extremely white despite being half-Japanese. In at least some cases, this is due to the fact that his Japanese heritage itself was a Retcon; the character was clearly white when he was first introduced.
  • Ellie Preston, the daughter of Deadpool suffered this big time in Gerry Duggan's volume 3 of the series. She's almost as bad as Monet. When she first appeared in-person during the Original Sin tie-ins, she was chocolate, with black hair. No denying her as (mixed) black. At the end of the tie-in, her skin is Caramel. After the tie-ins are finished her skin is white, her hair is a light brown and and her facial features have changed. This happened frequently throughout volume 3, where Ellie could be black one chapter and white the next. Finally, once volume 4 started in 2016, she has consistently been depicted as more black — with a brown complexion and black hair, a bit closer to what she originally was.
  • Similarly, the Iron Fist series has occasional "lapses" where Misty Knight is drawn with a shag haircut and European features.
  • There was a bit of a mini-controversy for the second volume of Mighty Avengers. Spectrum (a.k.a. Monica Rambeau a.k.a. Captain Marvel a.k.a. Photon a.k.a. Pulsar) debuts a new, short hairstyle with her hair straightened, whereas in previous appearances Monica always wore her hair naturally with her dreadlocked look being the most remembered one. This was later addressed in an issue where Monica was shown to be horrified when a little black girl said she wanted to straighten her hair to look like Monica's, and she's since gone back to her dreadlocked look.
  • The people behind the Avatar: The Last Airbender continuation series has been criticized for lightening Katara and Sokka's brown skin tone by a couple of shades. Even Aang is pointed out as having his skin lightened.
  • In the tie-in comics for the Young Justice cartoon, this occurred to the half-Vietnamese and half-white Artemis. Her skin is darker than Wally's in the cartoon, but in the comics she is presented as lighter skinned than in the source. She is also blue eyed when Word of God is her eyes aren't supposed to be blue (and in the cartoons they look black). She more looks like her DC Comics design (who is completely white) rather than the Young Justice one.
  • The Girl series by Kevin J. Taylor for years had the titular character be Ambiguously Brown and Only Known by Their Nickname until Girl: Rule of Darkness revealed Jaliera Dane is this trope via time travel to the original Dane being a Black slave with a (common low) white wife in the 1600s and presumably their descendants remained this trope for generations given the contemporary Dane family right down to Jaliera's little brother being a dead-ringer for Prince. This also subverts the Token Black Friend trope with Jesse James, who (usually) averts this trope.

    Comic Strips 
  • A variant has happened over time to Cayla from Funky Winkerbean. While her skin tone hasn't changed, her features have turned more caucasian over time; first her hair straightened out, then her nose and lips diminished to the point where she's gone from being unambiguously black to looking more like a dark-haired white woman with a tan. Suspiciously, this happened right when she and Les got married...though oddly, she still has her old appearance in flashbacks.

    Fan Works 
  • Carter Kane, of The Kane Chronicles, is a biracial adolescent, but he has very dark skin and appears black. Nevertheless, several pieces of fanart depict him with much lighter skin and Caucasian facial features. His sister Sadie is also biracial but with lighter skin, and is usually represented as 100% white.

    Films — Animation 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Spike Lee films:
    • School Daze references the old practice of black fraternities and sororities performing "the paper bag test" on their potential applicants - only those with skin lighter than a brown paper bag would be allowed in.
    • Get on the Bus features a culture clash between a very light-skinned and Anglo-looking black man (played by Spike Lee Joint regular Roger Guenveur Smith) and the darker black men on the bus. The rest of the bus riders see him as an outsider and criticize his anecdotes about his white mother.
  • Most light-skinned African-American actors benefit from this trope. Halle Berry is the most frequent example, being mixed race (White mother and Black father). Furthermore, Berry has also had plastic surgery on her nose, which had the effect of making her look more European.
  • Mixed-race actress Rae Dawn Chong is probably one of the earliest examples of a light-skinned actress constantly being paired up with white males.
  • Anna May Wong - the first Chinese-American movie star in the Golden Age of Hollywood - was a victim to this. Despite her star power, producers were reluctant to cast her in lead roles. She usually ended up as the Dragon Lady or Beautiful Slave Girl supporting parts - while white actresses in Yellowface got cast as leads. She ultimately had to take her career overseas to play non-stereotypical characters.
  • Mixed-race actresses such as Thandie Newton, Paula Patton, and Kandyse McClure (all of mixed white/black descent) are often paired with a white male co-star.
  • In the Hairspray remake, it is kind of hard to listen to the light-skinned Queen Latifah sing the line "...with a darkness/as black as my skin" without thinking of this trope. Both the film and the musical have the song "Run and Tell That" with a chorus of: "The blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice, I can say it ain't so, but darling, what's the use? The darker the chocolate, the richer the taste, and that's where it's at, so run and tell that!"
  • A major plot point in both the 1934 version and 1959 version of Imitation of Life, in which a light-skinned biracial child really really wants to pass as white, causing much heartache and tragedy.
  • Satirized in Undercover Brother when The Chief said "We can make the world a safe place for black people of all races", which was a Take That! to black people who like to subdivide themselves based on skin tone. Also mocked with Conspiracy Brother, who responds to "hi" with "As in 'High-yellow wanna-be WHITE'?!"
  • Laura Gemser from the Black Emanuelle Sexploitation/Grindhouse franchise counts. The lead isn't even black but Indonesian.
  • Josie and the Pussycats: In the original comic book and animated cartoon, Valerie is a dark-skinned black girl. In the live-action film adaptation, she is portrayed by the light skinned Afro-Latina actress Rosario Dawson.
  • Mixed race Lisa Bonet (half-Ashkenazi, and half-Black) claims to have turned down roles because of this trope.
  • Will Smith said that Eva Mendes was cast opposite him in Hitch because casting a black actress would have made it a "black movie" that would turn off white audiences. And apparently so would have a white actress. Likely why the kiss between Smith and Charlize Theron was cut in Hancock. So not even Will Smith at the height of his popularity, when he was considered a bigger box office draw than any white actor, was immune to this trope.
  • In many "Race Films" (films made in the US by blacks for black audiences prior to the 60s), the female lead was typically played by a light-skinned black, sometimes so light she could be mistaken for white. Meanwhile, dark-skinned females were cast as the heroine's maid, or other servants. This also applied to the men less so, though it was still rare to see light-skinned blacks cast as porters and waiters. This still exists to a certain degree in current black media. See the silent film Happiness, the cowboy serial The Creole Kid, and 1939s Moon Over Harlem.
  • The Human Stain covers this, as the protagonist's from a family of mixed Caucasian and African-American descent who's light enough to pass for white (to his brother's resentment-none of the rest can). Ironically it works too well, since everyone else believes this (he's made himself out to be Jewish as the explanation of his slightly swarthy skin and curly hair), thus he's accused of racism due to a misinterpreted remark about a couple absent students from his university class (both black). This was Based on a True Story.
  • Parodied in Robert Townsend's Hollywood Shuffle. In the sketch about "Black Acting School," the host of the commercial asserts that Hollywood prefers dark-skinned black actors to play thugs and low-lifes, and implies that these are the only roles available to black men.
  • Used in the French movie 99 Francs: the CEO of a dairy company refuses to cast a black woman in a yogurt commercial (claiming it's "too much Africanity for our audience" and that a Black girl will scare people); the main character chooses to cast a fair-skinned girl from Maghreb (thus African as well) and nobody complains, the CEO even says she looks less vulgar than any black girl would, even though the audience knows she is a prostitute (Octave smiles to himself, and Charlie smiles at him, while remembering it). Considering the movie is the adaptation of a Take That! against the advertising business, the whole point (rich, upper-class people can also be stupid, racist assholes, even when they are worth tens of billions) is rather Anvilicious, but then again....
  • Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay: Lampshaded with a light-skinned black security guard. Kumar accuses him of racism when is "randomly selected" to be searched. The security guards says he can't be racist because he's black, to which Kumar calls him barely black. Note that the guard could easily pass for white.
  • Rosario Dawson's mixed racial features allow her to play a variety of races and open up her opportunities for pairings. Similar to Eva Mendes, she can pair up with a white male, black male (Seven Pounds), and has even passed herself off as Middle Eastern (Alexander).
  • Vin Diesel's semi-autobiographical film Multi-Facial details the difficulties of a multiracial actor, who can't get parts because he's too black to play white but too white to play black. Diesel's star power has apparently allowed him to jumped the hurdle. He's even played a real-life Italian-American mafioso in Sidney Lumet's Find Me Guilty.
  • Wentworth Miller also overcame this. But most probably don't know his actual ethnic background, which is African-American/Jamaican/English/German/Jew/Cherokee/Russian/French/Dutch/Lebanese/Syrian.
  • Inverted in Get Shorty: Elmore Leonard's novel included several pages of dialogue between Chili and Harry about Bo Catlett's skin color — Harry, who'd known Bo for years, had never even realized he was black. In the movie, Bo was played by the dark-skinned Delroy Lindo. Obviously, those pages of dialogue were removed from the script.
  • Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, of African and Samoan heritage.
    • He's been on the covers of Jet and Ebony magazines, and Mick Foley described him as black in his autobiography Have a Nice Day! (specifically to make fun of Margaret Carlson for describing The Rock as a "white skinhead hateful wrestling guy").
    • The Rock is popularly thought to be "raceless," even though he doesn't downplay his ethnicity outside of his roles. Some roles have even featured him as "baseline" white characters (such as on an episode of Saturday Night Live, where he played Superman/Clark Kent).
  • "Sex Is..." a documentary from 1993. 59 minutes in, Wayne Corbitt, a black man who is into white men, says, "I have rebelled against anybody telling me what I ought to be, and that includes the gay community, who doesn't really want you to be too black: 'Uh, don't get so Black Specific with those issues.' And the black community, which goes, 'Huh! SM? A black man who LIKES getting whipped?! Do you know blah blah blah lynchings in the 20s and blah blah blah.' Yeah, I do know that did happen. I didn't do it. I'm not a part of that. This is 1992 in San Francisco."
  • Justified in Eve's Bayou, which was specifically about black Creoles, who were of mixed ancestry and often formed their own communities.
  • Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li has Chun Li played by Kristin Kreuk, who's got Chinese heritage but looks decidedly mixed. And it really stands out when all the child actresses who play her in the prologue are decidedly Chinese.
  • Kristen Kreuk also played an Indian Muslim woman in Partition, looking very out of place alongside British Irish/Indian actor Jimmy Mistry playing an Indian Sikh.
  • The documentary Dark Girls is about this trope, dissecting its implications and how it creates prejudice within the black community. In a strange twist, one (rather dark skinned) interviewee said that black men found her attractive and exotic, but refused to actually date her because she was too dark for them to be seen with in public.
  • Eddie Murphy's love interests tend to be light-skinned African Americans.
  • The 2013 film The Bling Ring is based on a group of thieves who targeted celebrities. Rebecca Lee is played by Katie Chang, who is one-fourth Asian. For reference, this is what Katie Chang looks like and this is what Rachel Lee looks like.
  • The Wedding, a TV movie about a wealthy light-skinned Black family on Martha's Vineyard, played this trope straight and subverted it all over the place. Halle Berry plays the lead Shelby, who faces a great deal of judgement from her family and friends for marrying a white man. Her sister, Liz, is married to a very dark-skinned man which has caused some pretty severe intra-family strife, especially with their white great-grandmother, since they pride themselves on being fair-skinned. There's also a flashback where Shelby and Liz's mother, Corinne, is implied to have aborted her third child since she didn't want to risk having a baby who looked like her (dark-skinned) father (her mother was white.)
  • This trope plagued the Lifetime Movie of the Week "Aaliyah: Princess of R&B" (a biographical feature on late R&B singer Aaliyah). Originally, Zendaya was cast in the title role only for online criticism of the casting (particularly with Coleman bordering on Ambiguously Brown) led to Coleman dropping out and the movie being placed on hold. Eventually, the producers cast Alexandra Shipp, who is still a fairly light-skinned actress but actually looks more like Aaliyah.
  • The announcement of Alexandra Shipp as the teenaged Storm in X-Men: Apocalypse has been met with many fans decrying the casting of Shipp as not being "black enough." Halle Berry is also frequently called out with this for the previous films (Berry and Shipp both had black fathers and white mothers). It should be noted that Storm in the comics has been drawn with a mixture of white, African and Asian features - with Word of God saying it was to portray her as "a woman of the world", resembling Gaia. Storm's full background, however, does have two parents who were definitely African.
  • Retired porn star Heather Hunter claimed that earlier in her career she was pressured to do scenes only with white performers. Although most of her partners were white (and mainly females), she arguably never fully obliged. On the other hand she didn't start having black co-stars until her last couple years in the industry, so there might have been some hesitation. To her credit she did bring in more black performers into the industry and was the first black major contract girl.
  • The casting of Shana in the Jem and the Holograms (2015) Live-Action Adaptation came under fire for casting Aurora Perrineau, a biracial actress with straight hair. Shana is fairly dark skinned and has a tightly-coiled afro in the cartoon.
  • Nina caused controversy when mixed-race actress Zoe Saldana was cast as African-American musician Nina Simone. Saldana's skin is darkened and she wears a prosthetic nose to better look the part.
  • In The Sapphires, the story of an Aboriginal girls quartet that toured Vietnam entertaining the troops, one of the group members, Kay, is a member of the stolen generation, and her time spent in Melbourne passing as a white girl (after being taken away by an agency and put into a mission as a child) is a source of tension between her and Gail, the darkest member of the group who deals with whatever insecurities she has about her complexion by almost relentlessly bullying Kay. And rather than lording her light complexion over the others, Kay has her own insecurities about it (probably due to Gail's ill treatment)—in the course of developing a relationship with a black GI, she feels it necessary to point out that even though she's "pale black", she's still black.
  • The Hunger Games drew controversy with the casting of Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss. She's described as olive-skinned and dark-haired in the books - and Word of God is that everyone in the universe is mixed race to some degree. While Ability over Appearance comes into play, the main source of controversy was that the casting was restricted to white actresses only. This is especially ironic, as some fans erupted with controversy over Rue being played by a black actress, despite her being described as brown-skinned in the book. However, Rue's casting has been criticized in turn, with her portrayed by a biracial light-skinned actor.
  • Zoë Kravitz claims that she was denied an audition for The Dark Knight Rises - with the reasoning being "we're not going urban". Fans assume she was going after the small role of Selina's friend Jen - who ended up played by the very white Juno Temple.
  • Soul Food. Maxine accuses her son Ahmad of being "color struck" when she notices that out of the two girls who have come to visit him, he completely ignores the dark-skinned girl in favor of the light-skinned one, even though he has more in common with the darker girl.
  • Oscar Micheaux is considered a pioneer film director, especially when it comes to black Americans directing films. Many of his race films were Author Tracts. He usually had mixed-race or light skinned black people as the leads while darker skinned people were lower-class supporting roles or villains.
  • The stylist of Thor: Ragnarok claims that they considered giving Valkyrie blonde hair, as in the comics. But out of respect of this trope, they left Tessa Thompson's hair black as opposed to making her a Dark-Skinned Blond.
  • Jamie Chung claims she was turned down for a role in the adaptation of Crazy Rich Asians because they wanted an actress who was ethnically Chinese (she is of Korean descent, though has played Chinese characters before). She then took time to criticize the movie for casting an actor who is half-white to play another part.
  • Inverted for The World of Suzie Wong. The titular Suzie was played by Nancy Kwan, who is half-Chinese and half-European. She was apparently given make-up so that she looked more convincingly Asian. The actress she replaced - France Nuyen - was also half-European - but looked more convincingly Asian.
  • Addressed in A Wrinkle in Time (2018) where the Murrys are a mixed race family. Meg is shown to be insecure about her hair, and the IT shows her an ideal version of herself - who notably has long straight hair. The supporting cast also features Oprah Winfrey, Mindy Kaling, Andre Holland and Gugu Mbatha-Raw (as Meg's mother).
  • A plot point in the film Nappily Ever After (and the book it's adapted from). The protagonist is a black woman in advertising who is obsessed with maintaining her straight hair, and the plot involves her suffering Break the Haughty and embracing her natural hair. It's shown that her obsession with it being perfect comes from pressures her mother put on her as a child.
  • Noel Clarke called out the marketing department for his film Fisherman's Friends, where he was the only cast member to be billed on the poster but not featured on it. He was also the only non-white cast member. He also slammed his fellow cast-mates, saying "not one of these other actors spoke up for me when I was left off the poster".
  • Rachel True has been open about how, despite being one of the leads in The Craft, she was frequently ignored by the press and marketing. Her three co-stars (all white by the way) were invited to the MTV Movie Awards when she wasn't, and she was left off press junkets until another actress called the studio up to include her. Twenty years later, conventions would likewise ignore her when inviting cast members for reunions (one article listed Christine Taylor as a star of the film, when she has a small supporting role). Rachel has often spoken out about how she was always cast as the Token Black Friend.
    "There's a casual racism to not including the Black person, we're the afterthought quite often."
    • On the flip side to the above, Rachel True also has confessed to getting backlash for her curls being "looser" and therefore not counting as natural hair (she is of mixed African and Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry). She's quick to fire back that she refused to straighten her hair for roles in the 90s when it was the done thing for black actresses.
  • Charlie's Angels (2019): Two of the three Angels (Jane, then eventually Elena) are now women of color. However, both have more Caucasian features and fairly light skin (the actresses were biracial). Zig-Zagging Trope though in that their first Bosley is played by Beninese actor Djimon Hounsou.
  • Margarita with a Straw: Laila, the lead, was played by Kalki Koechlin, a very fair-skinned French-Indian actress (born in India to French parents). As a result, she stands out glaringly from the Indian actors who play her parents, friends and love interest who have far darker looks.
  • The New Mutants: The film was criticized for casting an actress to play Dani/Mirage who's much lighter-skinned than her comic book counterpart.
  • For Colored Girls: Alice's father didn't like that she has dark skin, and "gave" her to a white man for light-skinned grandchildren, because that was what is beautiful to him.
  • Rough Night: Blair, the only person of color in the film, is portrayed by Zoë Kravitz, who's biracial and also light-skinned. This even gets discussed in the film when Blair says she's Black, after which Frankie accuses her of forgetting.
  • This trope plays a central part in the plot of Bad Hair. Our protagonist, a black woman, is told that she has to change her hairstyle from her natural hair to something more conventionally attractive (read: Caucasian) in order to move up in her job, and ends up struggling to choose between her ethics and her career (the fact that the weave she gets is bloodthirsty and sentient doesn’t help much). It plays a part in the film’s backstory, too — in the past, a black slave girl tried to use moss as a wig to replicate the hair of her white masters, only to learn too late that the "moss" was the hair of dead witches and end up possessed.
  • Inverted in the Marvel Cinematic Universe with James Rhodes, aka. War Machine. In the first Iron Man film, he's played by Terrence Howard. In Iron Man 2 and from then on, he's played by the much darker Don Cheadle.
  • Black Christmas (2019): Both the Black characters in the main quartet, Kris and Jesse, were played by light-skinned actresses who have mixed race heritage.
  • Master: Played for Drama. Gail and Jasmine are Black women who are the victim of racism at the college. The third of the trio, Liv, is a very light-skinned Black woman who feels she's being discriminated against for her skin color, but she teaches as if Everything Is Racist. This, and her light skin tone, is because she's actually white, but she still comes out on top and being welcomed into the university, while Gail undergoes a Heroic BSoD and Jasmine is dead.
  • In The Hate U Give, Starr is explicitly depicted as a dark-skinned black girl. In The Film of the Book, she is played by the mixed-race, light-skinned Amandla Stenberg.

  • Nikki Flynn and Edwin Dantes subvert this trope in Anthologies of Ullord. Many of their main characters are dark-skinned depending on their ethnicity and where they live in the world. Among them include Ritana, Althor and Tirtha.
  • Justine Larbalestier's novel Liar (2009):
    • It had a cover featuring an obviously white girl, although the protagonist is black. Especially given the story, since the chosen cover called into question one of the few true things, according to the author, that the protagonist shared about herself.
    • The publisher finally rectified the situation with a new cover, except some readers state that the cover model is still too fair-skinned and long haired compared to the character in the book.
  • The Mysterious Benedict Society: The lying cover of the second book. Sticky appears to be a very, very pale boy, even practically white, while it is stated in the books that he has light brown skin.
  • Some critics have noted that Robinson Crusoe describes Friday, a Carib Indian from South America, as remarkably European in appearance: small nose, thin lips, a brighter skin tone than "other natives of America," and generally "all the sweetness and softness of a European in his countenance." As author J.M. Coetze put it, when talking about his Crusoe Deconstruction novel Foe, the original Friday "is a handsome Carib youth with near European features".
  • Janie from Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God, who's considered to be beautiful, is described as having straight hair and a relatively light complexion. Mrs. Turner admires her for those white traits and even tries to set her up with her lighter-skinned son because she doesn't like her Not Too Black idol being married to a very dark-skinned man. Halle Berry quite appropriately plays Janie in the movie version of the novel.
  • The Bluest Eye is a novel that examines the relationship between beauty and race. The protagonist is a dark-skinned black girl who notices how light-skinned black girls are given more respect than she. Eventually she gets it into her head that if she only had blue eyes then people would stop treating her so horribly.
  • In one novel by Andrew Vachss a black character explains "the paper bag trick" to his white friend. Paraphrased: "I know lots of black guys who do the paper bag trick— they hold a brown paper bag up next to their face in the mirror; if their skin is darker than the bag they're going nowhere in life. Nowadays black mothers want their daughters to marry lighter."
  • In the Tell-All biography Confessions of a Video Vixen the author explain how her mother was favored by her grandmother due to her light complexion which put a wedge between her mom and aunts.
  • Played straight - historically straight - in Barbara Hambly's Benjamin January novels, a series of historical mysteries set in New Orleans in the 1830s, a place and time where it mattered a great deal what shade a person of color was.
  • His Only Wife: As part of an Arranged Marriage, Afi moves from her small village in Ghana to her new husband's elegant flat in Accra. One of the two female security guards for the building asks her twice what bleaching cream she uses (Afi does not use any), implying she admires Afi's complexion. Nobody else in the book comments on her skin tone, but she is of Ewe ethnicity.
  • In Uncle Tom's Cabin, the main character Eliza is one quarter black, with skin just light enough for her to pass as white. She takes advantage of this early on in her escape. Her husband is mulatto, and with a little makeup was able to pass as Hispanic while on the run. The 1927 film adaptation took this to the extreme by casting white actors for both parts.
  • In Aphra Behn's Oroonoko, the titular character, an African prince, is explicitly described as having European facial features and having "a perfect ebony" complexion as opposed to "that brown rusty black which most of that nation are" and the description she gives makes him seem less like a real person and more like a statue carved out of black stone. The fits with the overall theme of the novel, which does not condemn slavery so much as say that Oroonoko should not be a slave because he is royalty and different than the other citizens of his country, who are fair game.
  • The first edition of Octavia Butler's Dawn had the main character portrayed as a white woman when she was really black. More examples here.
  • In the Hudson books by V. C. Andrews, heroine Rain is praised for her beauty including being lighter-skinned than the rest of her family. This turns out to be because she's actually biracial and her biological mother is white.
  • Day, a protagonist from Marie Lu's Legend Trilogy, is half-Asian and half-white but is described as having blond hair and blue eyes. The author explains how this is possible here.
  • This trope was just one of the many, many reasons that Save the Pearls: Revealing Eden fell down flat on its face with its message about the pains of racism. So it's far in the future, blacks are on top culturally, whites are on the bottom, and as a result, the standards of beauty lean black... and yet when white girls "pass" as black (using, yes, exactly the means you think they do), they've still got some pretty damn straight hair. Videos made to promote the book show Eden applying the black make-up to her skin but she does nothing to alter her hair - and this is supposed to be a future where white features are considered ugly.
  • The cover art version also comes up on the covers of The Runelords novels. Princess Iome is specifically noted in the books as being a result of a mixed-race political marriage between her white father and Fantasy Counterpart Culture Middle Eastern/Indian mother (it's a bit ambiguous, as the region her mother came from covers a wide-enough range to fairly match that of "from the Middle East to India" and is internally very diverse; given political marriages, being Raj Ahten's cousin is no indicator). After her own political marriage, a common woman in her husband's homeland is shown wondering if pale complexions will become unfashionable now that the darker-complexioned (and very popular) Iome is to be their new queen. On the covers she looks like a white woman who never goes outside.
  • Nicole from Beauty Queens is quite black. She states how difficult it is for her to manage her hair. However, her mother bought her skin bleaching cream to make her appear more white.
  • In 19th century adventure novel King Solomon's Mines, Umbopa/Ignosi, a Zulu, is a noble leader who speaks to the white men as an equal. So of course he must be described as "very light-coloured for a Zulu".
  • Around the World in 80 Days, published in 1872, features protagonist Phileas Fogg falling in love with Aouda, an Indian princess that he meets on his travels. Verne makes his mixed marriage easier to swallow for 19th century readers by describing Aouda as having "skin as white as a European's" and expressing herself "in perfect English".
  • In the original illustrations of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Captain Nemo doesn't look remotely Indian. This is for two reasons: his nationality wasn't revealed until the sequel, and he was originally planned to be a Polish noble fighting against the Russians. France being allied with Russia at the time, Verne's editor convinced him to use a more traditional (to the French) Acceptable Target, and Nemo became an Indian fighting the British.
  • In Fevre Dream, a man who procures beautiful slave women for vampires to feed on talks about his taste for quadroon and octoroon girls. Period-appropriate racism is expressed by various characters in the book.
  • Outliers: The Story of Success is a book by Malcolm Gladwell that looks into how systems and cultures can accidentally create bias where none might otherwise exist, predisposing some people to succeed and others to fail. The most dramatic example is in the Canadian Youth Hockey League (in Canada, hockey is Serious Business and begins at an early age), where the majority of players are born in the early months of the year. This is because each league is age based and the cut-off date is January 1st. Children born earlier in the year are older, larger, and better coordinated than children born later in the year and as they progress, continual sifting and selection gives them better coaching and more practice such that by the time they're 17, when the accident of birth no longer matters in terms of native talent, the cumulative effect of all that extra work has made them into elite players. The theme of accidental success is personal for Gladwell. Generations earlier, one of his African ancestors was purchased to be a concubine in Jamaica, thus granting all her descendants extra whiteness. Jamaican racism, as described by Gladwell, differentiates with acuity based on the skin color, and he credits much of his own success to the easier successes of each generation of his family. His mother grew up relatively affluent, which allowed her to get a better education, eventually studying in London before moving to Canada.
  • The protagonist of The Skin Im In has been bullied for years by her equally black peers for being dark skinned.
  • Inverted in the Film Noir Monster Mash Fifty Feet of Trouble. Those jaguar people, a monster basically known for being physically attractive, of African American descent tend to get even darker after their change.
  • Deconstructed Trope in The Crocodile God: The titular god Haik is an emphatically dark-skinned Filipino, being a precolonial Tagalog deity. In modern times, he's often mistaken for Polynesian due to his skin-tone combined with his cultural tattoos, and immediately pegged as an indio note  once he corrects people. Unfortunately, that also means when he's revealed to be an illegal immigrant, the ICE department starts hunting him down the minute they can't find his records. The Filipino-American Mirasol (who's been having a Reincarnation Romance with him) is also olive-skinned, and her Latina friend Imelda points out to a white neighbor that they're either going to jail her for "helping a criminal" or even deport her as well, because even she's too dark and ethnic-looking to be seen as properly "American".
  • The titular protagonist of the Maximum Ride series should be at least half-Latina given that one of her genetic donors is the Latina Dr. Valencia Martinez, but she's described as having light skin and blonde hair. This is somewhat justified given that the woman that oversaw her creation is light-skinned and blonde herself (even trying to pass herself off as Max's biological mother), and heavily implied to be a Nazi on top of that.
  • The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali: Rukhsana is chided by an older Indian woman for going out in the sun more often than is fashionable, so that her skin's darker. It appears to be a common prejudice in Bengali culture, from what's said.

    Live-Action TV 
  • On an episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show during golfer Tiger Woods' meteoric initial rise to national attention, there was considerable controversy after Tiger said that when he was a child, knowing he was of mixed heritage—having not only white and black, but Asian and Native American (American Indian) ancestry—led him to cobbling together a word for himself, "Cablinasian". Some black celebrities took offense to this, with one even citing the "one-drop" rule (that being, if you have one drop of black blood, you're black). It was noted on a follow-up episode discussing the issue and how it related to race in America that this was a rule invented by slavers to expand their potential "product base". Inverted in the Gatorade Focus commercials, in which the animators seem to have assiduously eradicated any trace of non-black features on the animated Tiger.
  • Portrayed in Frank's Place. Frank, a medium-dark man, is invited to join a black men's society that historically limited their membership to those who passed the "paper bag test," but now want to distance themselves from their past. Ultimately Frank decides to refuse their invitation:
    Frank: All my life, I've been, quote, the "only black". I was the only black in this class. I was the only black in that organization. I was the only black on this team. Look, man. I'm not about to become the only black in a black club. I think that's going a little too far, don't you think?
  • Satirized in Curb Your Enthusiasm, in which Wanda wants Larry to get her script looked at by his colleague and explains how to "play the race card", telling him to emphasize that she's "one of those light-colored black folks".
  • Janet Hubert-Whitten, who originally played Vivian Banks on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, was replaced by the lighter-complexioned Daphne Maxwell Reid in the last few seasons. This was lampshaded on her first appearance. However only the change in actress was lampshaded. No mention was made of the half-shade difference in color. Even worse, the change in actress (and, with that, skin tone) also corresponded with a change in personality from an assertive outspoken career woman—more specifically a professor—who was every bit her husband's professional equal, to a docile, permissive housewife who appeared much less often.
  • Ginny and Georgia: Bracia notes that Ginny gets it a bit easier due to being light-skinned because she's biracial, while Bracia is a dark-skinned black girl.
  • Heroes:
    • Simone was the only prominent woman of colour in the main cast of Season 1, played by the light-skinned actress Tawny Cypress. She also gets killed off, as does her Latino boyfriend.
    • Micah is justified, however, because he has a white mother. And his black father features as a character. The father however kept having his debut pushed back, and ended up being unceremoniously written out.
    • Played for laughs with redneck truck driver Sam Douglas, who is played by Asian-American actor Ken Choi.
  • In one episode of Homicide: Life on the Street, Giardello hits it off with a black woman only for her to turn him down when he asks her on a date. The darker-skinned Giardello realizes she did so because he's out of colorism, and tells Russert he's been rejected because he's "too black" more times than he can count.
  • In one episode of the first season of MacGyver (1985), a Jerk with a Heart of Gold makes a sarcastic comment about a woman's race ("Yes, I am a cripple. And you, madam, are black.") to help establish his initial Jerkass tendencies. The actress playing the woman in question, however, is so light-skinned as to almost appear white.
  • A decent number of Soap Operas have been accused of this trope. Hispanics soapies even more so, since, save in Venezuela and Brazil (who follow this trope to a T), they tend to Monochrome Casting favoring white people.
  • Margaret Cho's short-lived sitcom All-American Girl is very But Not Too Asian. She makes reference to this a lot in her live shows. Ironically, they had hired an "Asian consultant" to teach the Korean-American woman to act more Asian. She was both too Asian and not Asian enough. Much of Cho's comedy stems from the fact that she has "Classic" Asian looks, but has a very American Gen X attitude. The network wanted someone who looked western (read: slender) while certain Moral Guardians within the Asian-American community wanted her to act a certain way, essentially inverting her stage persona.
  • Very much intentional when it came to the casting of Anne Rice's Feast Of All Saints. Because well, it was basically about fair skinned Creole folks during pre-Civil War America in New Orleans. A dazzling yet damned class caught between the world of white privilege and black oppression.
  • Girlfriends: The biracial Lynn. An early episode reveals that she was very culturally White growing up (justified since she was adopted by a white family), and her interest in exploring black culture is very recent. This is later revisited in Season 2 when her white adopted sister Tanya, who thinks she's pretty fly for a white girl, takes her act a bit too far and ends up saying the N-word in a salon full of black customers (including other main girlfriend Maya, who had up until that point been the only girlfriend who didn't mind Tanya's antics), leading to this confrontation:
    Tanya: Ain't this a trip? Suddenly you're the authority on what's "black?" Two years ago, you were a biracial grunge girl, and before that, you were just some pretty white girl!
    Lynn: That doesn't matter. Because when you use that word, only ONE of us gets hurt! And there is pain behind it that you will never know.
    • In Season 8, Lynn hits another racial brick wall after the manager at her record label explicitly tells her that the higher-ups don't know how to market her music (primarily indie rock) because she neither looks nor sounds "black enough."
    • Lead character Joan is played by biracial actress Tracee Ellis Ross as if she were 100% African-American.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • Kendra has been accused of this by some fans, as her actress Bianca Lawson is lighter skinned and the character is from rural Jamaica. This is however a case of Reality Is Unrealistic - as Jamaica is quite the melting pot of ethnicities, Kendra having lighter skin is plausible. Her actress Bianca Lawson usually wears her hair straight but it's worn with a bit of an unkempt curl - presumably so Kendra would look believably like someone who was isolated from the latest beauty treatments.
    • Giles's girlfriend Olivia appears in Season 4. She's an aversion as, despite being Giles's love interest (he's white), she's very dark skinned.
    • A huge aversion is the First Slayer Sineya, the root of the Slayer line and the very first to be given the power. Not only is she shown to be a powerful combatant, she is quite clearly a very dark-skinned African girl.
  • Jennifer Beals plays a biracial woman on The L Word. One episode focuses on her and her white wife at a group therapy session being accosted by a radical black lesbian poet. The latter accused her of embracing her lesbian lifestyle but ignoring her own blackness. Previously, she requested her wife accept a black donor's sperm for their child so s/he could racially reflect both parents, so she argued the poet down, but was very hurt.
  • Jennifer Beals played Cal Lightman's ex-wife on Lie to Me. Although she could be mistaken for white, her character's heritage mirrors her own (Black father and White mother), and again a character with the same parental mixture on The Chicago Code. Beals has insisted on this as background for her characters.
  • One HBO special, George Clinton's Cosmic Slop, was a set of several 'Twilight Zone' short episodes. In one episode, aliens land in the United States, and offer to solve all their economic and energy problems. In return, they wanted all the black people in America - everyone who would 'fail' the paper bag test - for undisclosed purposes. Guess how that story ended.
  • Rashida Jones is of mixed-race ancestry (her father is music mogul Quincy Jones and her mother is the white Jewish actress Peggy Lipton) but few of Rashida's characters are actually identified as black. Her character in The Office (US) is implied to be Italian-American, and her character in Parks and Recreation being Ambiguously Brown is a Running Gag. They made her look really white on this cover of Bust magazine.
  • Justified on Glee with Rachel's dad Leroy. It's established early on that she has two gay dads: one black, one white. Both men donated sperm and mixed it up so that they wouldn't know who directly sired her. The show cast the very fair-skinned Brian Stokes Mitchell as the black dad because a man with skin too dark is obviously not going to be her biological father.
  • Gossip Girl gives Vanessa Abrams a Race Lift by being played by the mixed race Jessica Szohr, and also has Gina Torres as her mother. This has the effect of making Vanessa the Token Minority in the very white cast—save for Penelope (Middle Eastern), Isabel (Black) and Kati (Asian) in Blair's Girl Posse.
  • Friends of course fell into Monochrome Casting very early on - with few people of colour appearing. But in the later seasons the darker skinned Gabrielle Union and Aisha Tyler appeared as love interests.
  • Saved by the Bell:
    • Lisa is the object of Screech's affection, and while certainly a pretty girl, she had very fair skin and angular features, and her hairstyles were rarely very different from Kelly's or Jessie's (it helps that '80s Hair tends to look "ethnic", no matter who is sporting it). The character was originally supposed to be a white Jewish Princess. Lark Voorhies got the role based on the strength of her audition, despite the fact casting specifically asked for only white females.
    • The show drew some criticism for ignoring Slater's ethnicity during its run. The character was written to be white but when they couldn't find the right actor - they extended casting calls to actors of colour, and the Hispanic Mario Lopez won the part. An episode of The College Years reveals that Slater's father changed his last name from the more obviously Latin 'Sanchez' when he joined the army.
    • While on the subject of Zack, his actor Mark-Paul Gosselaar is mixed race - part Indonesian on his mother's side. But the bleached blonde hair he sported for the show's run has the effect of making him look more Anglo.
  • How long before someone calls this on the leads of Undercovers? NBC's promos for the show (and all of their new programming) flash the phrase "more colorful" at the end, likely a nod to it.
  • The Law & Order episode "Blood" revolves around a black man who tries to pass himself off as white.
  • Cold Case:
    • An episode cast a dark complexioned actress as the victim and used lighting techniques to make her appear light-skinned, which didn't become relevant until near the end when her white lover tried to convince her to pass for white so they could be out in the open with each-other.
    • In two other episodes both a suspect and victim respectively were African American but so light skinned that they were believed to be white.
  • That's So Raven, with a cast of dark complexioned actors playing Raven's immediate and extended family (the members not played by Raven herself) but the title character and her friend being light-skinned.
  • While Degrassi: The Next Generation has had several black characters over the years, the only ones with any real development were Jimmy and Liberty. Both characters were portrayed by biracial actors. By comparison, the much darker-skinned Chantay Black was on a high school show for six seasons before she got any character development. Actress Andrea Lewis explains why there were little to no character development with black characters in her blog post.
  • Ugly Betty has an in-show example. Wilhelmina Slater underwent surgery and skin bleaching in order to conform to the fashion industry's standards as a model. Even as an ex-model, she is still ashamed of her previous appearance and real name, Wanda.
  • Criminal Minds: Derek Morgan has a white mother, black father, and several sisters. The actresses who played his sisters had range of skin tones. Shemar Moore himself has a black father and white mother.
  • The two leads of Key & Peele cater to this....and poke fun at the fact.
  • Pleasantly subverted with Angel Coulby on Merlin: in the promotional shots for series two she appears quite fair, yet in the shots for series four (the season in which she becomes Queen), she is portrayed as considerably darker.
  • It's a judgement call where Firefly's Gina Torres lands on this trope. She's of Cuban descent with mixed-race features. Early in her career she had a minor role in an episode of Law & Order (she found the corpse), and when a white cop at a coffee shop commented on her beauty, his black partner said it was only because she had "white features". She identifies as Latin.
  • Parodied on an episode of Howard Stern's syndicated TV show from the early-1990's. The segment was called "Black Folk With White Features" and was hosted by Stern dressed in Malcolm X gear, giving his name as 'Howard Washington Stern' and claiming that he and Robin Quivers were brother and sister, the idea being that he was a light-skinned black man instead of white.
  • On Chappelle's Show Charlie Murphy relates his friend Rick James' nickname for him: "Because of my complexion he used to call me 'Darkness'. He calls me and my brother Eddie 'Darkness'. Called us the "Darkness Brothers". See, this is long before Wesley Snipes. Back then we as the blackest niggas on the planet according to Rick James!"
  • Power Rangers is an interesting example. In almost every season, the show has had one Black person as a Ranger, ranging from the dark-skinned Joel and Zack to the medium-toned Jack to the very light skinned Kevin, and many shades in between. What's a bit unfortunate, however, is how Kevin, the most recent one, is not only fairly light skinned but also seen by many as an Uncle Tom. Sundai Love, an actress trying out for Power Rangers Megaforce says she was told that they couldn't cast her in the show, since they already cast a black actor. And the black actor chosen (John Mark Loudermilk) is very light-skinned at that.
  • Rainbow from Blackish, played by mixed-race Tracee Ellis Ross, has a Running Gag about this.
    "If I'm not black, could someone tell my hair and my ass?"
  • Bonnie Bennett from The Vampire Diaries is of African-American descent but she is relatively light-complexioned and she could be seen as more of a light skinned African-American. Her Grams also appears to be very light skinned as well as her mother Abby so this could be a genetic thing or it could be a possibility that Sheila was biracial and had a white parent although this has not been proven or confirmed. The reason for Bonnie being light skinned and appearing rather white in terms of her physical features is because Bonnie's portrayer Kat Graham is actually biracial and is half black, half white (her mother is White Jewish of Polish and Russian descent and her father is Black of Liberian descent). Katerina is only slightly darker than white and olive skinned Nina Dobrev (who is of Bulgarian descent) and Katerina also has hazel-green eyes and predominantly slight, narrow and white facial features.
    • It's worth noting the Sheila "Grams" Bennett, Bonnie's grandmother, is portrayed by Jasmine Guy, who is maternally of half Caucasian (specifically Portuguese) descent.
  • Covered on the old Donahue daytime talk show - talking to lightskin blacks who tried to pass as biracial or white when in reality they were just black usually born of two light-complexioned parents. Some changed their stance when they got older; needless to say some of their relatives weren't too pleased with their black acceptance.
  • Tyra Banks had a few episodes about this subject on her talk show, with one mixed black man (who was not terribly light-skinned himself) saying that he thought all dark-skinned men looked like cockroaches.
  • On a French talk show, model Noemie Lenoir & and fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld argue about this trope and how it applies to the modeling/high fashion world....They disagree. Karl said that there is no racism in fashion. Noemie said the contrary. Then Karl said she's the proof there's no racism because she's famous. Noemie points out that light-complexioned and or biracial black models are the new trend.
  • K.C. Undercover star, model, and singer Zendaya has faced this issue a number of times with her being Ambiguously Brown and able to crossover. But she is unapologetic about embracing her black side and often speaks out about black women being stereotyped in the entertainment industry.
  • Law & Order: UK inverts this when a dark-skinned suspect taunts the light-skinned DS Joe Hawkins, calling him a "mongrel". Joe's reaction indicates that this is a sore point for him and that this probably isn't the first time someone has made comments like this to him—his explanation to Ronnie makes it clear that colorism goes both ways.
  • A major bit of the crossover between Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder has Annaliese Keating slamming Olivia Pope on the latter being lighter-skinned and thus "geting more of a pass" by society than the darker-skinned Annaliese.
  • An episode of the Lifetime series Any Day Now had the dark-skinned Renee clashing with her light-skinned campaign manager (she was running for DA), feeling that every suggestion the woman made was an example of this trope. But during a huge argument, Renee was shocked when the woman accused her of colorism. It turns out that what Renee saw as standing up for herself and embracing her complexion, the other woman perceived as insulting her for being fair-skinned and of biracial heritage.
  • Luke Cage (2016) received some criticism over the casting of Simone Missick to play Misty Knight, given that she is lighter skinned than some of her male co-stars. Her skin is also slightly lighter than how Misty's is drawn in the comics. But since Simone Missick has been named by critics as the show's "standout performance", Ability over Appearance may have come into play.
  • Supergirl (2015) drew some criticism in its first season for featuring no women of color in the main cast, with only Tawny Cypress in a couple of episodes as Senator Miranda Crane, and Eve Torres as Maxima. Season 2 introduced two - Maggie Sawyer (also a lesbian) and M'gann aka Miss Martian. Both however are still lighter skinned than Mehcad Brooks (Jimmy Olsen) and David Harewood (Hank Henshaw). Given that M'gann is an alien disguised as a human, it is possible she invoked this trope. The fact that the actress who played Maggie Sawyer, Floriana Lima, is a white actress playing a Mexican-American characternote  does not help.
  • Dear White People: Invoked by the narrator (Giancarlo Esposito), who states that he was selected for the role due to his being ethnic enough while still being nonthreatening. Coco also complains of being thought poorly about by many black guys due to having dark skin, and claims Sam has "light skinned privilege" because she's mixed race. Sam retorts that no one calls Coco "half breed" or "Zebra". Joelle also deals with being seen as the Romantic Runner-Up in her Love Triangle with Sam and Reggie, because of being darker-skinned than her.
  • 13 Reasons Why:
    • The show justifies it when it comes to Jessica. Her actress Alisha Boe is mixed race, so she's shown to have a mixed family too. Season 2 even has an episode where Jessica straightens her hair for her court appearance, and there's an uncomfortable moment where she comments that her mother (who is the white parent) likes it straight. It's no coincidence that this is the same episode where she compares herself to the white Hannah - who she claims makes a better victim than her.
    • Sheri meanwhile is darker than Jessica and wears her hair curlier, while still serving as the love interest to the white Clay. She has switched to straight hair by Season 2, but the show introduces another black female in Nina, who wears hers curly.
  • One Day at a Time (2017) focuses on a Cuban-American family with Penelope and son Alex dark-skinned while Penelope's mom, Lydia, speaks in a thick accent. In "The Turn," Alex reveals he's been bullied at school by racist classmates, complete with "Go back to Mexico" taunts. Penelope's daughter, Elena, talks of how she's been lucky to have never been subjected to this. It takes seeing the reactions of her mother and grandmother to realize the reason is that she can "pass" for a white person (her mom even compares her to a young Anne Hathaway). A proud activist, Elena is actually upset folks see her this way.
    Elena: You're saying I can go through my whole life without being oppressed at all?
    Penelope: Okay, you know that wouldn't be a bad thing, right?
    Elena: [miffed] I guess...
    • At the end of the episode, the family stand up to some racists at an ice cream shop and leave in triumph. Elena proudly talks of how she's with them...and a black girl at a table says "Wow, Anne Hathaway just stood up for those Mexicans!"
  • Grownish received some criticism for mostly having lighter-skinned women. Zoey is played by Yara Shahidi, who is half Iranian and half black (and in-universe has one mixed-race parent) and the other two black girls on the show are lighter-skinned as well.
  • After Christel Khalil vacated her role as the The Young and the Restless' Lily Winters, she was recast with Davetta Sherwood. For reasons unknown, Sherwood was soon replaced with Khalil again. The notable difference in the actresses skin tones—Khalil is of Caucasian, Native American, African-American, and Pakistani heritage and thus considerably lighter than Sherwood—resulted in many viewers feeling that TPTB were displaying this.
  • Vida: Prejudice against darker-skinned Latinos is discussed as being common in the community. Nelson, the sleazy developer, told someone right to her face he wasn't interested after she turned out darker than in her online photo. Marcos and Lyn decide to use this by setting up a fake profile on a dating site of a very white girl, then catfish him. He tells Lyn (thinking she's the girl) he's not into Latinas due to preferring "pink nipples".
  • Cold Case: The victim in "Libertyville" was half black and half white but looked completely white. It was central to the plot, as he'd passed as white and been murdered for doing so.
  • Trinkets: Discussed by Tabitha and Marquise, one of the only other Black students at school (with darker skin than hers). He notes she passes the "brown paper bag test" (i.e. her skin is lighter than that), and would have expected she wouldn't have been racially profiled while shopping, causing her to be falsely accused of shoplifting (her dad's white).
  • The Woman in the House Across the Street from the Girl in the Window parodies the prevalence of this trope, as both Anna and Neil, the protagonists, have light-skinned, mixed-race daughters. Their spouses, who are people of color (but both are still relatively light-skinned), don't feature in the plot as much (and, in Tom's case, his wife is dead), while Anna and Neil are white.
  • Twenties: Hattie accuses Ida of having it easier than other black people because she's light-skinned, with a more conventional style white people accept. Ida retorts that she's still had to endure great hardship breaking through the glass ceiling however despite that.
  • The Baby-Sitters Club (2020): In the books, Jessi is described as having very dark, cocoa-colored skin, which is reflected in cover art. Here she's played by an actress with a significantly lighter skin tone.

  • Probably a large part of the reason Drake (who is actually biracial) is more successful than say, Frank Ocean. Keep in mind that his suburban middle class Canadian upbringing was also considered part of his appeal as a rapper as well.
  • Naturi Naughton of the R&B girl group 3LW was booted from the group for being too dark, though the other two members claim that was the reason they chose her to be in the group in the first place. That, in addition to Kiely Williams and Adrienne Bailon's involvement with The Cheetah Girls (which had a Caucasian girl in the group) had serious collateral damage too, which caused huge Flame Wars and utterly decimated their fan base, especially their urban fans. It also caused burned bridges with rap group Bone Thugs-n-Harmony as they featured 3LW on their first single off of their Thug World Order album. The single was released, but the break up of the group put the music video up in the air, which kind of rubbed Bone the wrong way as the single was doing very well. It also didn't help that the group was actually forced on Bone by Executive Meddling in the first place.
  • Alicia Keys was accused of benefiting from this once she received more Grammy wins over her much darker complexioned peer India.Arie at The 44th Grammy Awards, especially since India had 7 nominations and won none.
    • Consider both Musician-Singer-Songwriters have put out six albums:
      • India Arie: 10 million worldwide and 4 Grammys.
      • Mixed-race (White mother, Black father) Alicia Keys: 65 million worldwide and 15 Grammys.
  • Tommy Mottola wanted mixed-race Mariah Carey to be very vague about her background earlier in her career. Some believe she intentionally undermined this by appearing on the cover of Ebony Magazine's April 1994 issue.
  • Similarly Whitney Houston while not "light skinned" was marketed in the beginning by only sending her to white A/C radio stations while avoiding Urban Radio stations to promote her debut album.
  • Perri "Pebbles" Reid has also had album covers depicting her a lot lighter then what she actually was. This is especially jarring considering she was already fairly light complexioned.
  • Alternative hip-hop group The Jungle Brothers covers this trope in a song called "Black Is Black".
  • Mixed-race Lenny Kravitz said that his music was considered not black enough for some record labels, and not white enough for others. Of course he never changed his sound. And continues to blend retro-soul with classic rock.
  • Lampshaded by Nelly Furtado in the song "Powerless".
  • Michael Jackson's albums became a subversion of this starting with the Dangerous CD due to his music becoming more urban and less Pop/Rock oriented. Well in some fans opinion anyway, particularly the ones who preferred the more R&B disco Off The Wall Album to his Thriller, and Bad album.
    • Notoriously, Jackson's actual appearance seemed to be playing this trope straight. His gradually paling skin from the mid-1980s onwards was the subject of much speculation that he was intentionally bleaching it, even though he was already hugely successful and didn't have to worry about this trope. He explained in a 1993 interview that he had the skin disorder vitiligo, which destroyed his skin pigmentation. Still, combined with his plastic surgeries, jokes may always be made about how he resembled a white woman (at best) in his later years: i.e. "Only in America can a poor black boy grow up to be a rich white woman." (You can do anything... IN AMERICA!)
    • Some people say MJ enforced this trope with his children, using a white sperm donor and a white surrogate because he didn't want black kidsnote 
  • Hip-hop mogul, Diddy has also come under fire. In March of 2009, he placed an ad seeking models for a Ciroc Vodka promotion - as long as they were "White, Hispanic, or light-skinned African American."
  • Teena Marie is an inversion as she was initially "But Not Too WHITE," so due to Executive Meddling her debut album didn't show her picture or let her appear in public.
  • Cab Calloway may have been one of the first people this trope was applied to. His lighter skin made him easier to accept for whites at the time (this being the 1930's, back when performing in blackface was still okay). He also came from a middle-class background — quite rare for blacks at the time — and so was able to transcend the "ghetto" and "sharecropper" stereotypes applied to poorer blacks.
  • Jelly Roll Morton was known to brag about his fair appearance and White ancestry and mocked other African-Americans for looking blacker than him. When interviewed about his past, he would emphasize his Cajun ancestors and gloss over his African ones.
  • Beyoncé anyone?
    • She not only has very light skin but has dyed her hair progressively lighter colors over the years (so that it's basically blonde now).
    • This is highlighted in the music video for "Beautiful Liar" where Beyonce duets with Shakira. Throughout the duration of the video, it is often difficult to identify which singer is which. Seriously. Check out the video on YouTube here, you might start to doubt your powers of facial recognition.
    • Beyonce came under fire for an African-inspired photo shoot in which she wears dark makeup.
    • Beyonce's skin has ranged for brown to light, depending on lighting/makeup/tanning. Naturally, she's "damn near white." That Beyoncé is also rumored to bleach her skin in real life only adds to the confusion.
  • Besides the above mentioned Cab Calloway the Ur-Example for female artists was probably the The Ronettes, Especially Ronnie Spector.
  • Nicki Minaj is a mild example, she is of Afro-and Indo- Trinidadian descent. Though some see this as unfortunate anyway due to hip-hop music showcasing light-skinned black females.
  • Thin Lizzy have maintained a strong cult following, and their Live and Dangerous album is often mentioned as among the greatest, if not the greatest, live albums in rock history. However, they achieved only moderate success in their day, and singer Phil Lynott has been described as "too black for America". Keep in mind: whether or not this was the case, if the record label believed so, then they were not going to be receiving adequate promotion. And it could fairly be said that they did not receive adequate label support; they remained semi-obscure despite a series of consistent albums, and a sound that went on to influence later hugely-successful acts such as Def Leppard and Iron Maiden. Same could be said about most black rock artists. As it was covered in the documentary, Electric Purgatory.
  • Lil' Kim. When she first came out with Hard Core she looked like this. And now she looks less like a light-skinned black person and more like something that crawled out of the Uncanny Valley. Despite that, she kept the plastic surgery coming, and now people have made some harsh jokes that now she looks closer to "an Asian LaToya Jackson."
  • Some rappers have come under fire for praising light skinned black women while trashing dark skinned women. Rapper Yung Berg, who is barely fair skinned, made a statement on XFM radio that he doesn't like dark skinned women, going on calling them "dark butts". He then states in order for him to date a woman, they must pass a pool test. The pool test is if a woman jumps in the pool and doesn't look better than she did before jumping in, meaning her hair is nappy, then it's "not a good look". The day after he made an apology and stated that his mother is dark skinned.
    • Lil Wayne made a similar comment when he encountered a dark-skinned black female fan. After another rapper, Gudda Gudda, commented that she was attractive for a dark girl, Wayne agreed by quoting a lyric from his song "Right Above" (Beautiful black woman, I bet that bitch look better red). The fan asked him how he could say something so disparaging when his oldest daughter shares his own brown skin tone, he allegedly replied "my daughter is a dark skinned millionaire. That’s the difference between her and you."
  • Rihanna is light-skinned to begin with, but for a Vogue cover, they still lightened up her skin.
  • During the 70s and 80s, light-skinned black male artist were the most popular and presented to the public media in America, mainly because they had crossover appeal and were popular with both black and white females. Groups like Debarge and singers like Al-Be-Sure and Lionel Richie were the face of R&B music. Rappers like LL Cool J and Will Smith were the face of rap music. This changed during the 90s after gangster rap became popular for showing mostly dark-skinned black men in a strong, masculine, light regardless of the many negative factors of the music itself. It would help put dark-skinned black men on an equal playing field with light-skinned black men in the rap industry.
    • Yet which rapper in the 90s stirred up the most controversy with his song "Cop Killer"? The very light skinned Ice-T. Although, it should be noted that the song was actually released by Ice-T's hardcore punk/metal side project Body Count Body, which is part of two genres that are generally known for being predominately white.
    • Also James Brown, Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett were the face of R&B in the 60s. Musical content does contribute a great deal to popularity.
  • J. Cole on his song "Crooked Smile"
    "I asked if my skin pale, would I then sell like Eminem or Adele?"
    • Worth noting that Eminem himself has said he believes his success is in part to do with being white, declaring on his song "White America":
      "Look at these eyes, baby blue, baby just like yourself/If they were brown Shady'd lose, Shady sits on the shelf"
      "Let's do the math: if I was black, I would've sold half"
    • Despite being white, Eminem still had to alter his appearance at the start of his career to look as white as possible. Before he was famous, he had closely-buzzed near-black hair worn in moisturised waves and wore hip-hop clothing. When he broke out, he wore a platinum blond crop styled to emphasise his smooth hair texture, and a tshirt and jeans. Once he got famous, he started wearing more clearly hip-hop clothing, like do-rags, visors, basketball shirts and jewellery. In 2009 he marked his Career Resurrection by changing his hair to a dark edge-up buzzcut, at a time when he needed to remind people how much a part of hip-hop he was.
  • Crossed with But Not Too White, musically this was Fishbone's biggest problem early in their career, since black radio wasn't interested due to the Punk Rock element, and white radio wasn't interested because they were a black band that didn't sound like anything else.
  • Afrobeat musician Fela Kuti tackled this topic in his 1976 song "Yellow Fever". It was a common view in Africa that lighter skin was more beautiful, and many women became physically ill from using unsafe skin-lightening creams. Fela criticized that view as a holdover from colonialism, and pointed out that those lightening creams just made you look sick anyway.
  • Elvis Presley was largely considered this, and was basically a 50's version of Eminem. Funnily enough Elvis himself was well aware of and hated this trope, and resented the fact that people preferred him over Fats Domino (whom Elvis considered the true king of Rock 'n' Roll) just because he was white and Domino wasn't.
  • Primitive Man addressed this on "Disfigured" (as frontman Ethan McCarthy is a very light-skinned mixed-race black man): if you're light-skinned enough and lack any obviously black features, you will enjoy white privilege, but at the cost of being an alien; you will be accepted by white people without really being one of them, and you will feel like a traitor to black people despite being the descendant of slaves because of that same white privilege that you enjoy solely because of a lucky spin on the genetic roulette.
  • Rampant throughout Asia in general. Korean or Japanese pop stars westerners are familiar with are often ghostly pale compared to normal Koreans or Japanese (who are already some of the palest Asian populations). Take this music video of a Mandarin song. The lead singers are noticeably paler than the backups, particularly the female singer, who also has unusually wide and round eyes and dyed brown hair to look more white.

    Music Videos 
  • Hip-hop stars have come under fire for having predominantly light-skinned black women or other oiled up ethnically vague women of color (biracial, multiracial etc.), including Latina or even only white women in their videos. It could be argued that it's the casting director's fault, and not the fault of the artists themselves (and even then, casting directors can suggest other skin tones and ethnicities, but the director still has final say). This is also likely due to the fact that modeling agencies tend to favor ethnic women of a lighter shade, so they're more likely to be cast by default.
  • Hip Hop videos tend to cast dark-skinned models in large groups as the background eye candy but any video focusing on a single girl playing the singer's main squeeze will almost invariably be played by a model of caramel skin or lighter.
  • R&B videos have gotten the same type of criticism.

  • Done with Data East's Star Trek pinball, where the depictions of Lt. Uhura on the playfield show her as notably lighter than Nichelle Nichols, to the point of looking like she has a mild tan.

    Print Media 
  • Elle Magazine has been accused of lightening the skin of actress Gabourey Sidibe.
  • Time Magazine caught a lot of flak for artificially darkening O. J. Simpson's skin in the mugshot that ran on their cover. Back when you could actually get in trouble for "fauxtography", as opposed to it being par for the course.
  • British Asian TV presenter Jameela Jamil has talked about magazines that have either lightened her skin or used photoshop to change her nose to look more Caucasian.


    Pro Wrestling 
  • Mostly avoided in WWC, where Carlos Colon's light skinned, head shaving son Carly openly referred to himself as black. Valet of the Dominican heel team, Destiny, was also referred to as black by fans and reporters despite being light skinned and having long blonde hair. (Although it does bring to mind Destiny's Child, whose lead singer was also a long haired light skinned black woman and valeting next to Black Rose may have helped. Also became more obvious when Carly grew a huge afro) Despite this though, you'll occasionally hear/read comments like "not black, Puerto Rican" in regards to members of WWC and IWA PR's rosters, as if the two are mutually exclusive.
  • In what could have been a Take That! to this trope, in 2003 the very dark Teddy Long developed the gimmick of an oppressed black man and starting a stable with black wrestlers and having them squash white jobbers in what he dubbed the "White Boy Challenge". The kicker? Most of the wrestlers he recruited were very light skinned such as D'Lo Brown and Rodney Mack. However he did also recruit the very dark Jazz and Mark Henry. (Jazz and Rodney Mack are married in real life, so they were a package deal)
  • The Rock ran into this issue when he made a Face–Heel Turn for the very first time in his career. As part of said heel turn, The Rock joined a militant black pride group (The Nation of Domination, loosely based on the Nation of Islamnote ) and as soon as he became a bad guy, his skin color suddenly darkened considerably from its normal shade. In one of his memoirs about his wrestling career, The Rock wrote about being well aware of and uncomfortable with some of the underlying racial implications, and so went out of his way in all his promos to have his character make both the heel turn and joining the Nation be more about fan disrespect instead of about race/color.
  • Noted here where it's said how, although African-American Divas have been Women's Champion, none of them were pushed significantly if at all. And although Sasha Banks (who is mixed black and Hispanic) eventually netted a push, it took her two years to finally get one - in contrast to other Divas who got them rather quickly. Likewise any Latina Divas who are lighter skinned, have historically downplayed their ethnic backgrounds in favour of being either Anglo or Ambiguously Brown. Things became even more questionable after the article was published when Sasha Banks did become Women's Champion - only to drop the title twice back to Charlotte after short-lived reigns. Things got worse when her feud with Charlotte ended, and she won the title from Alexa Bliss...only to drop it back almost immediately afterwards.
  • In addition to the points outlined in the article above Layla always wore her curly hair straight as soon as she started getting proper pushes. Her first title win was a co-champions deal with the white Michelle McCool, and her second saw her getting barely featured. Alicia Fox likewise held the Divas' title around the same time, also coincidentally switching her afro hairstyle out for a more Anglo set of curls. There were a few photo shoots that appeared to have lightened her skin in The New '10s as well.
  • Greek Divas Trish Stratus and Maria Kanellis notably downplayed their roots while in WWE. Trish's real name is Stratigeas and she's naturally brunette - but her modelling days saw her going for the more neutral name Stratus, bleaching her hair blonde and adopting a bronze tan. Notably once Trish achieved some prominence in the women's division, the bronze tan was lessened, and her Greek heritage was acknowledged in a promotional DVD. Maria too had blonde hair early in her career and later became redhead. She never used her last name during her first WWE run, but is now using it (with real-life husband Mike Bennett taking his wife's surname in storyline) as of her 2017 return.
  • WWE's Arab performer Aliyah initially looked as if she were going to play up her heritage - with a Belly Dancer inspired gimmick. She ended up dropping the gimmick after only two appearances, and her heritage has not been referenced on screen yet. While her ring name 'Aliyah' is Arabic in origin, it's associated with the black R&B singer and has been used in Latina and Jewish circles too - making her come across as Ambiguously Brown (she's even been mistaken for a tanned white girl). In 2018 she was even accused of having cosmetic surgery to look less ethnic.
  • Eve Torres suspiciously had her last name dropped around the time she got pushed for the title, and her Latina background was never acknowledged on TV.
  • Naomi was suspiciously kept out of the title picture for years despite her popularity with fans and catching onto wrestling very quickly. She had the poor luck in 2014 to get an eye injury while in the middle of a title push - and she was shunted aside in favour of calling up Paige from NXT (and it quickly became clear the writers had no idea what to do with Paige either). Next year Naomi got her push - by being turned heel in a move that nobody (including the lady herself) thought was a good idea. It was finally averted in 2016 where she was turned back face and pushed as the top woman of the Smackdown women's division. She held the Smackdown Women's Championship twice. She later revealed that she experienced colorism when she was first signed; in FCW, she performed with her natural hair in braids but had to put in a straight weave when she was called up to TV. She didn't wrestle with her natural hair until 2020, and admitted that she was terrified to finally do so.

  • Ice hockey goaltender Grant Fuhr played 19 seasons in the NHL, helped the Edmonton Oilers win five Stanley Cups, and was regarded by no less than Wayne Gretzky as the greatest goalie in hockey history. Only when be was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame did many fans realize that Fuhr is half black, and notably, the first black person inducted to the HHoF. Being raised in Alberta by white Canadians and spending his entire career in the older-style goalie mask may have had something to do with that.

  • Played with in Passing Strange: The Youth's high school infatuation Edwina wants him to "get some soul" and blacken up a bit, but, as she notes, not so much that he'll "become unhirable". The casting of the show itself naturally disregards this trope completely.
  • A stage direction in The Merchant of Venice refers to the Prince of Morocco as a "tawny moor", as opposed to a "black" moor.

  • The first black Barbie dolls had the right skin tone, but were processed from the same mold used to make white Barbies; thus they had African-American skin but white features. The Barbie So In Style line attempts to avert this, with mixed results. The dolls do have green/blue eyes and straight hair, but there was an effort to include many different types of skintones and they have distinct African facial features.
  • The American Girl dolls have a similar problem to Barbies, but with hair. While the black dolls arguably have black facial features and do usually have thicker hair than the white dolls, their hair is still not as thick as that of most black people in Real Life.
  • In the Disney Princess Merchandise, Jasmine from Aladdin, while not black, seems to have widely varying skintone. Sometimes she'll be the same tone as she was in the movie, but a lot of merchandise features her with much lighter skin. In at least one of the children's books, she was almost as light as the white princesses! The Japanese official art is even worse at lightening her skin than the American ones. A similar non-black example occurred with Mulan in the 2013 relaunch of the Disney Princess franchise, which included more "stylized", "fashionable" redesigns for the characters. In addition to her skin being lightened until she was literally whiter than Snow White, her face was altered to have more of an Anglo look and her eyes were made blue. Due to backlash, the skin tone and eyes, at least, were corrected to something closer to the movie.
  • As a collaboration with Splatoon 2, Sanrio released a line of special merchandise that featured Sanrio characters in the world of Splatoon and vice versa. This line includes plushies of Pearl and Marina, two characters from the game. However, though Marina has a very dark skin tone in-game, her Sanrio plushie is incredibly pale, to the point where she looks Caucasian. This, naturally, caused a lot of backlash.
  • Sashabella from Bratzillaz is supposed to be black like her cousin Sasha from the main Bratz series. In the web-cartoon her skin is lightened, making her looking Ambiguously Brown.

    Video Games 
  • This is a common problem in many games with a "Create A Character" mode. In many cases, the option to play a really dark-skinned character doesn't even exist. This is especially jarring in games which allow you to play a "Dark Elf" which is black in the most literal sense, but do not allow you to make a dark-skinned human. Sometimes, even when there are options to darken the skin, there are still no facial features or hairstyles to match. So what's left is either Ambiguously Brown or the "white person in blackface" effect. Fortunately, there are exceptions.
  • Minecraft: invoked In game, Steve has tawny brown skin that is much darker than Alex's, but his ethnicity is not revealed. Confusingly, Minecraft's official promotional merchandise tends to portray him a fair bit lighter than he appears in-game, to the point that he could be a Caucasian with a tan.
  • The darkest gnome skin in World of Warcraft could barely pass for Hispanic. Black humans, dwarves, and even orcs are creatable, though.
  • In Soul Calibur III, the first appearance of a black character in the canon (Zasalamel), and the series' first create-a-fighter mode, doesn't translate into a black skin option, as the darker you try to go, the more the saturation drops. So even though there's at least one face option that has somewhat African features, trying to pick a naturally darker skin color to match it just makes your character gray.
    • Additionally, while Zasalamel is from an undetermined homeland, most clues put his origin as being in what is now Iraq, and his home stage is in Poland. As of the first six games in the series, he is also the only human character not to hail from Western Europe or Eastern Asia.
  • Oblivion is a very bad offender. Whenever you try to make a dark-skinned Redguard, they turn out with ugly green splotches that should NOT be there. Makes you wonder if the people at Bethesda have never seen a real dark-skinned black person before. The fact that Redguards share a skin texture file with the other human races does not help.
  • In the futuristic racing F-Zero series (specifically F-Zero GX) introduces the series first playable black female character in Kate Alen, a tall and beautiful female who is unambigiously black and is an aversion of this trope. This doesn't last long as her next appearances in games and in the anime make her not only half a shade shy of white, but also erase her black facial features, turning her into a generic anime girl colored tan.
  • Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas are just as bad as Oblivion about this. "Black" characters often end up looking like dark-skinned white people.
  • Street Fighter:
    • Elena from Street Fighter III has a caramel-colored sprite, which is especially ridiculous when you remember she's from Kenya. She also lacks any African features and has blue eyes and straight white hair. Though in 3rd Strike her official character art did get changed to a more realistic dark brown color.
    • Laura from Street Fighter V is Afro-Brazilian and on the fair side, much lighter than her brother Sean from Street Fighter III. Granted, it makes sense to the high amount of interracial relationships throughout Brazil's history, but then in her story mode ladder, she and her brother are colored very pale for the picture cutscenes.
  • The protagonist of The Suffering. If not for the photo he carries of his family (In which, for some reason, he's quite a bit darker) there'd be no way to tell if he was actually black. It came across like the studio got cold feet when making the character. Made worse in the sequel, where they lightened him up to look like a tanned white man.
  • Sheva from Resident Evil 5:
    • Yahtzee described her as looking like "a white woman who's been dipped in tea." She also doesn't sound very African, using some sort of meandering British/Australian accent. She was motion captured and modeled after an Australian actress Michelle Jade Van Der Water, who is on the lighter side...though it does cater to the trope in that every other African is darker in the game and she happens to have green eyes.
    • There is also the controversy after rumors that Sheva was only made black at all to combat the accusations of racism the game was receiving for having dark-skinned African villagers as the "monsters" of the game, so some people saw Sheva's light color as being an insufficient compromise and example of this trope (dark skinned Africans = crazy diseased zombies, light skinned African = female lead).
    • Sheva has always been a character in the development of the game, but her role changed after the allegations. However, Sheva's appearance is really jarring when compared to Josh, who averts the trope.
  • In Half-Life 2, if the player weren't shown Alyx Vance's father (who is an example of this trope himself), boards would probably be awash with debate around whether she was supposed to just have a tan or was multi-ethnic- which is because she's half-black, half-Asian. As a result, she's left off many lists of notable badass video game women of color. And the only way we know she's supposed to be half-Asian inside the game is a picture of her with both of her parents from before the Black Mesa Incident.
  • Metal Gear series:
    • Crying Wolf is African, but looks more like a Japanese woman with a tan- Her look is based on model Mieko Rye who is light-skinned (and apparently mixed with other ethnicity) herself.
    • Fortune from Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty is African-American, and her in-game model is brown-skinned, but the official art for the character tells a different story, as she is very fair-skinned. She and her father are both blond (with blond eyebrows) and with blue eyes. The comic adaptation adds to this, as the colour/lighting of the comic is essentially "white with very dark and bold colours as the shadows", which has the unfortunate effect of making her look white in a majority of pages. The only pages in which she looks like her game counterpart are her introductory page (in which the lighting is mostly red and brown) and a watercolour image of her a few pages later (that still manages to be paler than she is in-game).
    • Naomi Hunter's ambiguous ethnicity is actually what led her to study genetics in the first place, as she wanted to find out about her roots. Although never definitively confirmed, in a Codec conversation she states that she believes her skin tone is from the Indian laborers from her native Zanzibar and even her Japanese bio describes Hunter as a "brown-skinned beauty". She didn't receive an in-game model until the VR Missions/Integral, yet she looks almost indistinguishable from a white woman there. Naomi received a completely updated look in MGS4, but at best she still looks quite light skinned with a bit of a tan.
  • Mortal Kombat ran into this a couple of times, particularly with the Edenian natives as Edenia draws on several cultural influences, particularly Asia and the Middle East leading to ambiguous aethnic characters:
  • Pokémon:
    • Subverted in Pokémon Battle Revolution, of all things. The Japanese version had everyone light skinned, and the Western ones added tanned and black versions of all the various trainers. It was implemented a bit awkwardly, but it's there.
    • Pokémon X and Y unfortunately have this. While you have a good number of customization options for you character, the darkest you can have your skin be is light brown. (May be justified, since the player's mother looks the same no matter what, implying it could be due to them being biracial.)
    • Pokémon Sun and Moon added a dark brown skin tone option. In terms of hair options, the protagonist still only has straight hair (though you can get a braided cornrow hairstyle), but this is most likely due to No Flow in CGI. The game, which is set on a Hawaii counterpart, has NPCs of various skin tones.
  • In Mass Effect, there were many white, Asians, Hispanics, and Ambiguously Brown characters, but no black people or people of African descent until Jacob in the second game. Character creation is mixed on this. There are broad noses and full lips to select, but no appropriate hairstyles, at least for black men. The best attempts at creating a black male Shepard will still look off when standing next to Jacob, whose features are unique.
  • Dead or Alive does this to Zack and Lisa in the fifth installment. Compare how they looked in previous games to how they look now. Interestingly enough, due to DOA 5's more realistic aesthetic for the fighters, Lisa has a broader nose and fuller lips, making her actually look like a black woman instead of a generic anime babe painted brown.
  • Similarly, Virtua Fighter has Vanessa, a dark skinned Vale Tudo fighter with long straight white hair. In her debut, her skin tone was very dark, even darker than the resident Scary Black Man Jeffry. Fans loved her, but a small minority found her to be something of Scary Black Woman thanks to Vanessa also being very buff and having a tough, tomboy attitude and gruff voice. In the next game after, Vanessa's skin tone was made much lighter, on top of losing muscle mass and her voice becoming more feminine. Thankfully, customization options in the last update allowed fans of her original look to make her skin dark again.
  • An odd example from Dragon Age II: in the promotional materials for the game, Isabela had a far lighter skin tone than she actually has in-game. Unfortunately, this has persisted in comic covers and art books even after release. The character creation also makes it hard for you to create a person of East African descent. You can make their skin dark brown, but there are no facial features or hair to complete the package.
  • Don't Starve offers some odd examples as well, perhaps due to its Tim Burton influence. In more recent years this has been less prominent. The game's first two characters of color, Walani and Warly, are significantly washed out both in-game and in some older promotional art despite being Hawaiian and Black respectively. Warly, after being added into its sequel game had noticeably darker hair and skin in all promotional art, although his in-game skintone stayed the same.
  • A variation of this occurred with Farah from the Prince of Persia series, though in her case it's "But Not Too Brown". In The Sands Of Time, Farah debuts with a nice dark skin tone befitting an Indian princess. In The Two Thrones, her skin is visibly lighter. In addition to this, whereas Farah's first game had her voiced with the hybrid accent of an Indian person educated by British English speakers, Two Thrones had her voiced with a generic American accent, so it comes across as making Farah But Not Too Foreign as well as But Not Too Brown. The upcoming Sands Of Time remake seems set to avert this, depicting Farah with her normal dark Indian skin yet again, and this time she has a pure Indian accent.
  • Tekken: Christie Monteiro from Tekken 4 is on the lighter side, though her skin tone has been consistently light brown since her debut. Her grandfather also appears to be Asian - though it's not confirmed if she's adopted.
  • Clementine from The Walking Dead, to the point where she can be confused with every other ethnicity. A persistent rumor used to be that she's Asian, due to her being based on the daughter of the storyboard artist, Derek Sakai. Some people, especially in her season 3 version, thought she was Hispanic. Her skin is quite light and she lacks any traditionally black facial features. Her voice actress, Melissa Hutchison, is white. The official statement on her ethnicity is that she's African-American, but it's possible she has distant ancestors of different races.
  • Pathfinder: Kingmaker:
    • Your Garundi (fantasy African) party member Ekundayo is very dark-skinned, but his companion questline puts him into a Love Triangle between local bartender Elina as the Betty, and his old friend Ntavi as the Veronica. Ntavi is stated to also be Garundi but is almost as light-skinned as European-looking Elina.
    • The only other explicitly Garundi character in the game, Hellknight Linxia Benzekri, is a Pathfinder Iconic character who is depicted noticeably lighter-skinned than her canon counterpart.

  • Played for Drama in Dumbing of Age: according to Sal, her twin brother Walky received Parental Favoritism because he "came out whiter," which Walky denies. (The pair have a white mother and mixed-race father.) There's no noticeable difference between their skin tones, at least at the time of the comic, but Sal has naturally kinky hair that she works very hard to straighten.
  • Zig-Zagged a little bit with Bloody Urban: Camille is of African decent but has blue skin and no features that would obviously read 'black'. However, since vampires in this universe lose their Undeathly Pallor after feeding on blood, she's occasionally shown with very dark skin.
  • Inverted in Ennui GO!. Tanya's skin was intially on the lighter side but became progressively darker as the series progressed.

    Web Original 
  • Parodied by The Best Page in the Universe here.
    Maddox: She should be dark enough to score that hip diversity dollar, but not so dark as to scare away that heartland racist dollar.
  • This Vlogger talks about how people automatically assume that you're DIRECTLY biracial if you're light-complexioned with curly hair. Not realizing that they could just be black.

    Western Animation 
  • The Boondocks:
    • This is often a concern of Jazmine Dubois, the mixed-race girl on The Boondocks, particularly when the subject of her hair comes up (she hates her curly hair and wants straightened like her white mother). Meanwhile, Huey is often prone to accusing her of not being black enough, particularly in regards to her hair. Poor girl can't win. She could be Aaron's take on a Tragic Mulatto. Her mother is white and has blonde hair, which explains why Jazmine has lighter hair and skin than other characters.
    • On at least one occasion Uncle Ruckus claimed the Freeman family are stuck up because of their relatively light skin. Ruckus himself in very dark-skinned, which is (probably intentionally) satiric considering he is racist against black people. He claims to have "re-vitiligo" that makes him get darker.
    • Also mentioned by Huey when describing the typical storyline for one of the Tyler Perry movie parodies. He discusses a story about an educated black woman who is abused by her bald, dark-skinned husband, who is just about ready to leave her for a white woman anyway. The black woman falls in love with a handsome, long-haired, light-skinned shirtless gardener. The sequence makes sure to note repeatedly about how the gardener is light-skinned and how her husband is dark-skinned and bald.
    Woman: Oh lord, thank you Jesus. I never thought I'd ever be with a man so loving and light-skinned.
    Man: And I will always be light-skinned just for you.
  • Spider-Man: The Animated Series:
    • Blade is so light that it's difficult to tell he isn't white, well until you notice his other features.
    • Blade's mom is clearly African-American too.
  • In Archer, the character Lana (voiced by Aisha Tyler) is a light-skinned black woman. Archer calls her "black-ish." When she gets offended, he defends himself, saying she exploded when he called her a quadroon. Archer himself appears to have this preference as evidenced by his ringtone
  • It appears every black character on Zevo3 falls into this trope, they're all caramel-colored.
  • American Dad! lampshaded this with Condoleeza Rice when Stan tries to sober up a drunken George W. Bush:
    Stan: Coffee! I'll get you some coffee! How do you take it?
    Bush: Well, Stan, I like my coffee like my Secretaries of State, not too dark and a little sweet.
  • Rocket Power: Twister's brother Lars for the first season had a dark skin tone, but in the seasons that followed afterwards, he had the same light brown skin tone that his brother had. This was either Unfortunate Implications by lightening a character's skin or an aversion of the Unfortunate Implications since Lars was the Jerkass bully and "villain", and the only dark-skinned character at that.
  • Disney Junior's Sofia the First features the first Latina princess, a very fair-skinned girl with reddish auburn hair. It is a given that Latinos come in different shades, ethnicities and colors but a lot of people are taking issue that Disney declared her Latina just a short time before the show premiered. Mainly the fact that it seems "after the fact" and just declaring her Latina just to have a Latina princess, one of doesn't even debut in proper Disney Animated Canon movie, no less. Not to mention fair-skinned Latinos have more representation in the media. It since seems Disney has retconned her as not being Latina. They made such a big deal of another princess, who has brown skin and dark black hair, being their "first Latina princess".
  • Spyke from X-Men: Evolution had blonde hair and spoke with a Totally Radical skater boy accent. He was included specifically to be a Token Minority, but his original concept had cornrows that got rejected out of worry that it would 'frighten' children.
  • It's been noticed that in promotional works for Avatar: The Last Airbender, Katara's brown skin and Aang's olive complexion get lightened to a light complexion.
  • Subtly alluded to on South Park. When the girls start Photoshopping their pictures to make them unrealistically hot, Nichole, the one black girl, makes her skin lighter. (Though oddly, later it's shown dark again.)
  • In her debut Luna, the keyboardist, from The Hex Girls in Scooby-Doo is Ambiguously Brown and a Dark-Skinned Redhead. Future appearances lighten her skin to be like her bandmates. Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated ended up returning her back to her original skintone.
  • DC Super Hero Girls: Although Bumblebee has a consistently dark skin tone throughout the animated show and movies, the LEGO toy line and movies based on the franchise portray with a much lighter skin color.
  • DC Super Hero Girls 2019: Karen Beecher/Bumblebee is lighter-skinned than she's previously been portrayed, and her eyes are green rather than brown.
  • There's been debates with Rugrats fans about how Susie is colored in All Grown Up!. Her skin and general coloring is lighter in season 1 but became even lighter in season 2. At least part of it is blamed on Art Evolution, as creators became more lighter in season 2.
  • This common criticism of Orange Blossom in the 2009 incarnation of Strawberry Shortcake. Due to her hair being straight and Only Six Faces being in action, she comes off as Ambiguously Brown instead of the very unambiguously black she normally is. The 2018 reboot reversed this and made her more like her past designs.
  • Hey Arnold!: Gerald, along with his mother, father and older brother all are fairly dark-skinned. His younger sister Timberly, is considerably light-skinned.
  • Winx Club: This happened to Flora and Aisha when the series got new designs for season 8 and the spin-off World of Winx; while previously they appeared unambiguously Latina and black, respectively, the new designs lightened their skin tones so much that Aisha looks Ambiguously Brown and Flora only looks barely tanned compared to her white friends.
  • A recurring criticism of Miraculous Ladybug is about how the superhero forms of several nonwhite characters seem designed to make them appear more caucasian; for example, the black Max gets white hair and lighter skin when he transforms into Pegasus. Even outside of the transformations, protagonist Marinette is supposed to be of mixed Chinese and Italian descent, but her light skin and round, blue eyes (the latter of which she shouldn't even be able to have) make her appear fully Caucasian
  • Aqualad from Young Justice (2010) is dark-skinned, but with very blue eyes and blonde, buzzcut hair. His father turns out to be fairly dark-skinned, but a picture of his mother from the tie-in comics has her as light-skinned with blonde hair.

Alternative Title(s): Colorism