'Yellow Fever' short film challenges beauty standards

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In a powerful short film titled “Yellow Fever,” Ng’endo Mukii, a Kenyan artist and filmmaker, sets out to expose the troubling messages portrayed by the media about skin color. She wanted to find a way to express the near self-loathing that many women of color experience.

“While growing up, I would come across women who practiced skin bleaching (‘lightening’, ‘brightening’), and often had a condescending internal reaction to them,” Mukii said.

“Now, I realize they are only products of our society, as are we all. Since our media perpetuates Western ideals to our girls and women, and we consume this information continuously from a young age, how can we fault anyone who is susceptible to these ideals (men included), without challenging the people that are creating them?”

In the film, Mukii’s niece, who is five years old, sits in front of a television screen with a white pop star and proclaims, “If I were American, I would be white, white, white, white and I’d love being white.” She then begins a heartbreaking tale of how magic could change her skin to be more white.

Each moment of the film is flowing with conflict, but Mukii said perhaps the most “exciting” for her to work with was the body landscapes.

“I had not worked with breathing bodies before in this way, and the effect of the staccato movement created from photographing individual frames was very satisfying. I was trying to create a sense of being uncomfortable in one’s own skin, and had been reading Frantz Fanon’s work at the time… I don’t know, it was the body as a breathing landscape, and the eruption of emotion. It just fit.”

Mukii wants to raise awareness of the issues brought by valuing one skin color over another, an awareness she says should highlight the fact that it is not enough to acknowledge the damage society’s obsession with being thin can be. “Why is there no acknowledgement of the pressure that exists to push Kenyan (and other) women to willingly poison their skin and bodies with various chemicals (mercury included) in an attempt to have a paler complexion? Why is this not some form of body dysmorphia related to the skin? Why should any normal girl feel that she will be more beautiful and lead a happier life if she loses weight? Why should any normal Kenyan girl feel the same, but in relation to being paler? Why do we live in societies that agree to either of these ideas?”

Watch the film below and let us know your thoughts.