Alexandra Shipp continues to battle critics about her portrayal of Storm in the X-Men: Apocalypse and the upcoming X-Men: Dark Phoenix. As always, the battle revolves around the issue of colorism.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Shipp spoke to Glamour about the backlash, saying, “(I tweeted back) at people who criticized me for not having dark enough skin for my role in X-Men because we’re not going to have this conversation about a cartoon character. You’re not going to tell me that my skin color doesn’t match a Crayola from 1970. Growing up, when I was reading the comics, I pictured her looking like me. For any black girl, for there to be a black superhero, we picture them looking like us.”
“When I auditioned for the role, I wasn’t like, ‘Oh man, I’m not dark enough.’ I was like, ‘Finally, this is my moment,” she said. “I’m not playing Harriet Tubman with a prosthetic nose and darkening my skin tone. I would never do that.”
Her statement about Harriet Tubman does hit on the complexities of colorism within black roles, as shown when Zoe Saldana starred in Nina as musician Nina Simone, who was several shades darker than Saldana. For the film, Saldana darkened her skin and put on a fake nose, making her look more like a special effects character than Simone, who was a beautiful woman.
To bring the conversation back to Storm, in particular, the character has always been darker than someone of Shipp’s complexion. This isn’t said to negate Shipp’s feelings about the role or how Storm has inspired her. But the point that somehow Shipp seemed to miss, even when bringing up the Harriet Tubman example, is that colorism in Hollywood is real. She might not want to be a part of it, but the Hollywood machine uses her skin tone and others to keep less Eurocentric faces and body types suppressed. As William Evans wrote for Black Nerd Problems during the X-Men: Apocalypse hype, colorism in Hollywood is “why Lupita [Nyong’o]’s rise to fame was constantly met with, ‘I don’t get it, I don’t see why people think she’s beautiful.’ Or the New York Times calling Viola Davis ‘less classically beautiful.’ Or why there are about 17 things wrong with Zoe Saldana being cast as Nina Simone.”
Evans, who also wrote how Storm’s “dark complexion has…become a beacon and symbol for women with darker skin for decades,” also wrote that even if the role of Storm is a dream come true for Shipp and hits at a point of racial pride for her, “that empathy doesn’t really do much to alleviate the consistent knocking in the back of black women’s skulls that have been passed over because they were too dark. To simply dismiss this as a non-starter of an issue is really just another level of ‘I don’t see color,’ but instead it’s ‘I don’t see the difference between one black person to another.'”
What it boils down to is this: even though black women across the board get the short end of the stick in Hollywood, darker black women get even fewer opportunities than lighter-skinned actresses. Storm is a lightning rod, not just because of her abilities but because of the role she plays in many black women’s lives. It’s no surprise that any black woman, when given the opportunity, would want to play Storm. But it’s always important to consider the game Hollywood plays when it comes to who it deems more desirable. Hollywood still sees someone like Shipp as a more desirable option than someone like Nyong’o, Davis and others. Keep in mind: Black Panther is a rarity in superhero films not just because its protagonist is black, but for also showing dark-skinned black women in multifaceted roles, something Hollywood doesn’t usually do.