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The "Gora Complex" in Pakistani entertainment Industry

The west has made significant attempts to adopt affirmative action to increase opportunities in the workplace for underrepresented parts of society. Mainstream media in America and Europe has increasingly made attempts to cast people of colour and create stories that are more diverse, especially after the social media campaign #OscarsSoWhite took the global entertainment industry by storm. The campaign criticized the lack of representation of BIPOC, women, and the LGBTQ+ community in the nominations for the Academy Awards. It has, since then, expanded as a call for greater inclusion and awareness of several marginalized groups in all aspects of the film and television industries across the globe.

Unfortunately, Pakistan is still following that colonial mindset, which has ingrained within generations that fair skin is superior to other tones. This belief is propagated through television advertisements, soaps, drama serials and celebrity endorsements. It’s hard to imagine a future where Pakistan’s beauty standards will have shifted to real beauty. People here are too obsessed with the “gora complex” and using whitening creams and beauty filters. Especially in our entertainment industry, where we see that the entire cast is fairly skinned, whether it’s a drama serial or a movie.

Saboor aly, a Pakistani actress, shared similar views in an interview. She believed that almost all media agencies cast on the basis of fair complexion. Saboor talking about the beauty standards and complexes in our society mentioned that “There are many channels and production houses who still believe in beauty standards and fair complexion. If you have a fair complexion you will immediately get a lead character.”

Faysal Qureshi, a Pakistani actor, has also expressed his concern for the obsession with white complexion in the industry in particular and the society as a whole in a recent interview with Fuchsia Megazine. According to Faysal, the concept was affecting the career of accomplished actors by not getting the roles they deserved, “just because of your face, just because of your color complexion, your Instagram following, don’t waste other people who are really good actors both male and female. So please we need good actors. We must do something, to make the only good actors work.”

The percentage of naturally fair-skinned individuals in South Asia, when compared to the region’s predominantly dusky tones, is fairly low. The lack of young women and men on screen with darker complexions is unfathomable when it comes to casting leads for drama serials, advertisements and even social media or modeling campaigns. Even fair-skinned actresses are made lighter and fairer with makeup, making them appear at least two shades lighter.

How can any young woman with dark or dusky skin feel comfortable with her appearance and natural skin colour when she has no role models to pave the way for acceptance and self-love? Drama producers cast domestic helpers and lower class women with darker skin because apparently you NEED to be rich and affluent to be fair skinned.

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The sad part is that while people acknowledge that there should be no discrimination based on colour and skin but the same people then themselves opt the mainstream way. There are many producers in Pakistan, who will choose a slim and smart model for an advertisement or film rather than a strong actor of moderate skin tone. We as a community have fallen to this taboo that more fair a person is, the more beautiful he/she is. We badly need to break this taboo.

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This paracitic norm of the drama industry happens to be very problematic as having a large audience predominantly women, it has the potential to make people insecure of their own skin color. Despite the land being free of colonialism, there still is a very visible form of it existing in the form of showing white skinned people as superior as compared to the darker skinned people. As one of our peers presented in class as well, the industry did not even recruit a dark skinned actor for the drama parizad. instead, a white skinned actor's get up was made in a manner to make him appear darker.

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Yess, it was my partner and I's presentation where we highlighted the deeply rooted color biasness in our industry through the drama Parizaad. Colorism continues to dominate throughout the media industry. The presence of black face among the Pakistani entertainment industry has been quite familiar, for example within comedy actors like Moin Akhtar and Anwar Maqsood whose show Loose Talk featured the former donning the black face to portray a Bengali cricketer. Even if we look at the entire south Asian entertainment industry, this concept is growing and thriving. we can find several examples From Alia Bhatt in Udta Punjab to Ranveer Singh in Gully Boy.

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As Khubaib has pointed out earlier, colorism in South Asia is rooted in colonial legacy and has detrimental effects on those individuals who face these pressures by the community. Much of the South Asian beauty standards are a representation of the Euro-centric features and beauty standards such as fair skin, Bleach cream, and other products marketed to lighten one's skin color constitutes as a multibillion-dollar industry in Pakistan. There is inherent psychological damage that compliments this ideology, women who deviate from this hegemonic ideology experience sense of worthlessness and inferiority. As you discussed, this is also a result of the fair-skin actors, some of which have undergone under the needle to conform to the eurocentric ideals of beauty. There needs…

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Khubaib Riasat
Khubaib Riasat
15 dic 2021

Our thoughts are still shackled to colonial beliefs despite the fact that we have been "free" for 74 years. The drama industry continues to favor light-skinned actors and actresses. In dramas and films, we rarely see someone with skin similar to ours. The industry not only appreciates white skin but also mocks brown skin. In a society where the majority of individuals are dark-skinned, the entire concept of whitening creams and injections is damaging. The "gora complex" must be abolished as soon as possible.

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