Celebrating Black Skin with Animation
British-born Ghanaian Comfort Arthur obtained a Bachelors degree in graphic design from Central Saint Martins and a Masters degree in animation from the Royal College of Art (RCA), both in London. She has worked on several award-winning films since moving to Ghana in 2012. Presently, Arthur works as a freelance editor, illustrator, graphic designer, animator, and actress. In 2015, her short animation film The Peculiar Life of a Spider was nominated in the Best Animation category at the Ghana Movie Awards and Africa Movie Academy Awards. She has also won numerous awards for her short animation film Imagine. In addition, her latest film Black Barbie emerged Best Spoken Word Film at the Real Time Festival (RTF) 2016 and Best Animation at the 2016 Ghana Movie Awards. The same year, it also received nomination for Best Animation at the Africa Movie Academy Awards (AMAA) and African International Film Festival (AFRIFF). One of the few female film animators in Ghana today, Arthur’s personal experience with skin bleaching while growing up, inspired Black Barbie. This film was also selected to screen and have its French premiere at the 2017 Annecy Animation Film Festival. She has also been nominated as Best Animator of the year for the Ghana UK-Based Achievement Awards (GUBA) 2017.
Congratulations! How does it feel to have the screening of Black Barbie at the 2017 Annecy Animation Film Festival?
Thank you! For those that don’t know about Annecy, it is the biggest animation film festival in the world and it is hard for films to get selected. Only 216 films will be screened from 2,800 submitted from 95 countries. Ever since I graduated from RCA, I kept telling myself that one day my film would get into Annecy. That dream has finally come true. I am so thankful to God he is AWESOME!
Last word, Black Barbie also had its first screening in Asia at the International Festival of Short Films on Cultural Tourism in Jaipur, India. How did it go?
I could not contain my excitement when my film was selected. Skin bleaching is a big issue in India and many people use these products. I am grateful to God for helping me make a film that is touching lives.
Can you tell us about your experience with bleaching and the inspiration for Black Barbie?
My younger sisters were fair-skinned while I was dark. Growing up, people always commented on how beautiful they were. When my mother gave me a black Barbie, I cried that I wanted a white one. I grew up in a society where fair-skin is synonymous with beautiful. In several movies and music videos, one sees fair-skinned ladies so subliminally that one is conditioned to think being fair-skinned has more benefits. Black Barbie is a poetry animation that discusses my experience with skin bleaching products—my struggle to love skin colour, from growing up hating it, to trying to bleach myself at age 23. I had turned some shades lighter and also adorned shoulder-length hair weave before a friend sat me down to a lecture about what I had done to myself. It was then that I realised I had low self-esteem, so I stopped bleaching and got rid of the weave. It took my skin a year to return to its natural chocolate hue. The film premiered at the inaugural RTF International Film Festival in Lagos, Nigeria where I won an award. I will never forget this experience.
How long did the project take?
I did almost everything myself because I did not have ample funds. When I was about to begin, I posted it on social media and top Ghanaian actress Ama K. Abebrese volunteered to help with the spoken word as she is also passionate about celebrating black skin and speaks against bleaching.
Here are some poetry excerpts from Black Barbie:
“One night when I was staring at the mirror I recalled
The way I had rejected my black Barbie I was so appalled
The truth was I was ‘Black Barbie
rejecting my beauty I felt so dirty”
It wasn’t my fault for society had always been right
That real beauty was having straight hair and being light
Dark girls like me were never taken out for a meal
Because my skin and hair lacked European appeal – Black Barbie
What motivates you?
My motivation lies in the power of filmmaking. Films do a lot to the mind and are powerful tools that can entertain, educate and change perceptions, as well as generate new ways of thinking. People have not realised the power of filmmaking and this is why I use it as a platform to inform them.
What can you say about the Ghanaian film industry?
The Ghanaian film industry is improving. I also think one of the problems we have is that we are competing and not collaborating. For us to grow, we need to collaborate especially on animation, where we are quite a few.
What words of advice do you have for upcoming animators and filmmakers?
Never give up on your dreams. Five years ago after being shacked up in a supermarket job for years, I decided to make a hard decision and leave London. I ended up as an editor but not in my profession. Sometimes when one gets comfortable, things delay. In 2015, I left Sparrow to focus on my career and started my Blue Moon Production Company the same year, where I worked primarily on animation. Black Barbie is the first animation to win at the Ghana Movie Awards; I was humbled and grateful for the recognition. So far, it has screened at 17 international festivals.
Peculiar Life of Spider