Tika Sumpter, star of the upcoming film Southside With You, opened up about her experience as a dark-skinned Black woman in Hollywood. In a personal essay, the actress describes how her experience growing up molded her to be comfortable in her skin. She also revealed how dark-skinned fans reacted to seeing themselves represented on screen in a positive light.
Sumpter said that even though her parents later divorced, she and her six siblings always felt supported, loved and confident.
“Both of my parents, and particularly my mother, worked very hard every day to make sure all their children had exactly what we needed to grow up with minds of our own, confidence to spare and strength to endure,” she said to Black Doctor.
The 36-year-old star of Tyler Perry’s The Haves and Have Nots said she was reminded of her childhood when she watched the documentary Dark Girls, which explores biases in African-American culture against dark-skinned Black women.
“My heart broke just listening to the stories of so many young girls with brown skin traumatized by the cruel and hurtful views of those around them,” Sumpter said.
Sumpter would have the same emotion when she joined Gossip Girl in 2011 as Raina Thorpe.
“I was truly unprepared for the tremendous impact I’d have while on that show,” she said. “Each week I’d get the tons of letters from mothers, grandmothers, and young girls literally thanking me for simply existing. They wrote me saying they’d never seen a woman that looked like me on television before.”
For some fans, the admiration went even father.
“Some fans even remarked that they’d never witnessed any woman with my skin color speak the way I spoke, have a successful career the way I had on that show, or carry themselves in such a ladylike manner,” she said, noting the implication was viewers found it impossible to see dark-skinned Black women speak proper English or be refined.
Though the movie star says she has dealt with backhanded compliments like, “You’re pretty for a dark-skinned girl,” Sumpter is thankful for those who embraced her beauty so much that they wouldn’t say such things.
But she knows not everyone is as fortunate.
“It hurts me to know that so many young girls today are growing up without that same realization and reassurance,” she said. “I also regret that so many are forced to seek their self-worth between the pages of mainstream magazines or in the background of a rap music video.”
“I’d like to think that seeing someone like me on their televisions every week gives them some hope that things are changing slowly but surely,” she adds. “Finally, every day I’m thankful that I didn’t have to endure the pain that I know so many women do on a regular basis as a result of the color of their skin. My heart goes out to them all.”