By all accounts, 25-year-old Badria Abubaker is a beautiful woman but still, there are days she struggles with the reflection she sees in the mirror.
“There’s moments when I’m low with my complexion, with my hair,” said Abubaker, a Mount Royal University student in Calgary.
On the surface, her concerns may seem common, vain even, but for Abubaker, who was born to Somali parents in Kenya and moved to Canada at two years old, the issue runs much deeper.
“Growing up, you know, as a person of colour, as a black woman, you start to realize things like you’re different within the community,” Abubaker said.
She can still remember the first time she really took notice of the physical differences between her and her predominately Caucasian peers.
“This little girl touched my hair and I remember at that moment I was expecting [her to say], ‘Oh nice hair,’ or whatever it might be, but it was like ‘Oh, I want my carpet to feel like this.'”
Abubaker was only six at the time but the moment stuck with her all these years and it was what prompted her to start straightening her hair so “it doesn’t feel like a carpet.”
As a teen, Abubaker’s self-esteem and self-confidence took another hit but this time, it wasn’t another child taking aim at her appearance, it was an entire industry.
“You don’t find yourself when you’re going to like, Shopper’s Drug Mart and you’re trying to find a foundation, you don’t see yourself,” Abubaker said.
“It’s discouraging to the point where I’m like, ‘OK, maybe I’m supposed to be lighter, so let me try to fit into that box.'”
Somewhere along the way, Abubaker abandoned that notion and focused her efforts instead on what she could do to bring change and help others accept their differences.
Her response, to date, has been two films.
Her first, Black Hair, explored the complex relationship between black women and their hair. Her latest film, The Colour of our Skin, which was co-produced with Olivia Baychu, takes on the beauty industry and it’s failures in addressing diversity among skin tones and the effect it has on black women.
“I believed there was something wrong with my skin,” Naveen Dominique is heard saying in an excerpt from the film’s trailer. “Maybe I’m not taking adequate showers or something like that, otherwise why would they be saying these things about me?”
“It plays with your self-esteem, it messes you up. So finding yourself within the makeup industry is what the film is about,” Abubaker explained.
“You hear about these women’s experiences and how they’ve come to cope with it and what they’re doing to be a part of the solution.”
Some of the women in the film are local makeup artists who have created their own lines of products for women with darker complexions.
Abubaker’s latest project will be screened this month at the 2nd annual MRU Black History Month Film Festival. She’s hoping it will help bring awareness to what she calls “an ongoing issue.”
“If we never talk about it, no one’s ever going to know that it’s an issue, especially if you’re not affected by it.”
Festival attendees will have the opportunity to talk about the issue and ask Abubaker questions about the film in a talkback session after the screening.
“When you’re excluded from the whole conversation it gets deeper than that, right?” she said.
“Everyone should be a part of the conversation so we can understand that it’s not just makeup, it’s not just vanity — it’s more than that.”
The MRU Black History Month Film Festival showcases artists and filmmakers in the African diaspora and features a diverse line-up of short films including documentaries, dramas and sci-fi thrillers.
The festival takes place on select nights throughout February. The schedule can be found online.