Entertainment

Black model's struggle highlighted in film

The fashion industry comes under fire for its dearth of black models in new short film by Toronto filmmaker Elizabeth St. Philip that makes its debut online on Tuesday.
Renee Thompson in a scene from the National Film Board of Canada's Colour of Beauty, directed by Elizabeth St. Philip. ((Dallas Logan/NFB))

The fashion industry comes under fire for its dearth of black models in new short film by Toronto filmmaker Elizabeth St. Philip that makes its debut online on Tuesday.

The Colour of Beauty follows Toronto model Renee Thompson, a striking, determined 24-year-old who wants to make it in New York.

"It's really just a glimpse of the fashion world. I was only with her for a few days," says St. Philip.

"The aesthetic of the fashion industry is out of step with the rest of the world. All around you in cities like New York and Toronto, you see diversity. People are comfortable with it."

The Colour of Beauty includes interviews with industry insiders such as FashionTelevision's Jeanne Beker and Lisa Tant of Flare Magazine, who note that the fashion industry seems to be spurning diversity.

"It's a crazy kind of racism. I hate to call it that," Beker says on-screen, while Tant points out that many of the growth markets for fashion are in the Middle East and Asia.

Yet runways over the last few years have been dominated by a kind of "robotic Eastern European look" that demands white models.

The token black models who get work have straight European noses and hair and straight, almost curveless figures.

"You're constantly justifying your worth and what you can bring to the business," a frustrated Thompson says in The Colour of Beauty.

'Interest in black models … seems to have died off'

St. Philip said the fashion industry seems to operate with an out-of-date business model.

"The people who design high-end clothing are the people who are behind [these decisions]," she said. "In the '70s there was a great interest in black models, but it seems to have died off over the decades."

Most consumers would prefer to see people more like themselves, she added.

St. Philip, a full-time TV producer who makes films as a "creative outlet" previously directed Breakin' In: The Making of a Hip Hop Dancer for the National Film Board.

The Colour of Beauty is a 16-minute film that is part of the Work for All project that highlights discrimination in the workplace.

It makes its screen debut in Vancouver on May 16, as a companion event of the Fox, Fluevog & Friends exhibit at the Museum of Vancouver.

Fox, Fluevog & Friends highlights the Vancouver success story of shoe designers John Fluevog, Peter Fox and Ken Rice.