A Gentle Magic is a forthcoming, feature-length documentary film which explores the resurgence of skin-lightening products in South Africa, and uses that as an in-road to the country’s changing social landscape. It was filmed over a period of 3 months, and features an array of people from four provinces across the country.
These quotes are from some of the women featured in the documentary. Initial screenings shall be held at different, soon-to-be-announced venues in October.
When a person is about to buy skin lightening creams, just as they are taking out their money and the product is on the table, I ask them not to. At one instance the shop owner asked me ‘why are you losing me a customer who’s here to buy?’, and I said ‘brother, wait a bit, I would like to talk to her in private.’
The shop owner even wanted to beat me because he said I was chasing away his customers.
I told him ‘these things you sell to people and encourage them to use destroy their skin, and when they come back to complain you can’t say anything because you don’t have a way to help them. It’s easier when you are selling and advertising your chemical.’
It’s like when a person runs a business, they won’t tell you about a product that will harm them, but will encourage you to buy it because they are pushing a business. So we as people must be careful because in the end we face problems.
I don’t eat anything for my skin, I don’t do anything, it’s like this, it’s been like this. There are people who come up to me and ask me ‘what do you do for your skin, I want my skin to look like yours’ and I’m like, dude, and I’m gone. Yeah I put a bit of make-up on, but I don’t have that problem. [The girls in the video industry] bleach, oh they bleach. And some actually inject to get bums. This industry is hectic, hey, it’s not as nice as people think it is. When you see a video you think, oh, but it’s hectic; people they go through hell. There’s one girl that I know, since she did her body, she’s been getting bookings like nobody’s business. She’s the IT girl now. Like, she’s out there.
I started creaming about 5 years ago. Not because I wanted to brighten my skin, I had pimples on my face. So I went to a skin doctor at eMshiyeni, and the doctor gave me a cream and ointment to use. They made the skin on my face lighter. I was dark before; I got used to it. When the ointment the doctor had given me got finished, I then noticed other women who were light-skinned and asked one woman what she used, and she said she was using Extra Clere (?). I then bought it, and still use it to this day.
I found that dealing with things like hair and skin are just the perfect gateway because all of us have skin, all of us have hair. For black people, it’s been attached to an emotion. White people too. there’s a superiority complex white South Africans attach to their skin, and we have an inferiority complex we carry as a result of our skin, so there’s something that needs to be balanced on both sides. The counter-narrative that I have been trying to create with my work, in my writing, is very much based on looking at blackness from a place of self-love. first let’s redress the things that we were told about ourselves. It takes a long time to heal a wound that you don’t even know is there. A lot of us didn’t even know it is there. So first it’s like the discovery of the wound, and then examining it.
Skin bleaching has always been an issue, and this started in the early 70s. It was around that time when the South African government banned the use of skin lighteners over the counter. Those were creams containing hydroquinone, mercury…for some time the problem was kind of not obvious, but there were small pockets of people who were still continuing using skin lightening creams. I got interested in the problem of skin bleaching because I noticed in the last 5-7 years, there’s been a resurgence in the use and abuse of skin lightening creams by African women and Indian women. And so I wanted to find out why was there this resurgence, what were the complications, whether people knew that skin lightening creams can cause problems on the skin, and where were they getting these creams from? And what their perceptions about skin bleaching.
From the creative heart of Jo’burg comes a poignant new take on an old issue: A Gentle Magic. Shot and edited by Tseliso Monaheng, directed by Tseliso Monaheng and Lerato Mbangeni, and produced by Susie Neilson and Graeme Aegerter, the film will begin screening at select locations across the country this October.