“Say goodbye to dark skin in eight weeks” advertises a skin-lightening cream that Lenny, a high school aged Filipino girl, is forced to use by her mother in award-winning short film, Bleached.
The film was presented by filmmaker Jess dela Merced as part of Ally Week and concurrent with South Asian Middle Eastern Asian Pacific Islander (SAMEAPI) Awareness Month at Mills. The event was co-hosted by the department of ethnic studies at Mills, the Social Justice Resource Center (SJRC), and the Office of Student Activities (OSA). The screening took place on April 18.
Set in modern day San Francisco, Bleached follows the journey that Lenny, played by Merced, undergoes after she succumbs to her ex-pageant queen mother’s request that Lenny use skin lightening cream. Lenny’s sense of self shifts as she begins to embody her mother’s “skewed sense of beauty.” Throughout the rest of the 12-minute film, Lenny rediscovers her own sense of beauty and plays a humorous yet powerful trick to get revenge on her mother.
Following the showing of Bleached, Kenyan-Mexican Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o’s brief speech, which addressed beauty and societal pressures to be light-skinned, was shown. The event concluded with a question and answer style “talk-back” led by Merced that centered around identity and colorism.
In the talk-back, Merced described her experience with skin bleaching and the desire to have lighter skin.
“When I was growing up, my mother would come back from the Philippines, and she had these lightening soaps. She never forced me to use them, but I was always curious about them,” Merced said. “I was little, but I remember very clearly that I tried using it, and I was like ‘I don’t see a difference,’ so I stopped using it, but I really wanted it to work. This film was the exploration of why I was having those feelings as a very small kid.”
DeeAnn Williams, a senior biopsychology major and Filipino-American, reacted favorably to Bleached. Like Merced, Williams’s experience of skin bleaching was firsthand.
“I thought Bleached was subtle but powerful — it was brilliant,” Williams said. “This is something I’ve dealt with throughout all the generations, all the relatives and especially my mother. So this has been my life experience. Bleached has been my life in a lot of ways.”
Merced also addressed the prevalence of skin bleaching on an international level, a reality she faced in her travels.
“I lived in Japan for a year, and they were white as snow, but they still put that stuff on,” Merced said. “I went to Korea; it was there, too. I just got back from Abudabi; it’s there as well. Even in San Jose, there was an article, maybe a year ago, about how there was mercury in those creams and this Latino community was getting sick.”
Audience members and organizers acknowledged the pertinency of Bleached and the larger issues at play in the film. Rachel Russell, coordinator of diversity and social justice resource center programs, said she enjoyed the film, particularly because of the intersectionality of ideas it addressed.
“I liked that it brings up so many different issues,” Russell said. “There’s colorism, there’s things about race, gender identity, sexuality — a lot of different issues.”
Jenn Wells, director of the office of student activities at Mills, said she appreciated the portrayal of social dilemmas throughout the film.
“What I really love about Jess’s film is that it highlights the day-to-day experience around oppression, if you will, and how it affects our relationships with one another and our self-image,” Wells said. “It’s really important for us to engage as scholars, but also to take a kind of self-inventory of what we are experiencing day to day and how societal pressures affect our experiences. Art can be a healing medium to productively look at oppression and societal pressures around beauty.”
Until Bleached has finished circulating film festivals, it will be unavailable in full online.
A trailer for the film is available at vimeo.com/17138437.
Watch the trailer here:
SAMEAPI will simultaneously be hosting several events this week and throughout the month of April. For more information, visit www.mills.edu/academics/undergraduate/eths/sameapi.php.