Beauty and diversity done right — Harry, the Harry Connick Jr. TV talk show features makeup tutorial for ebony-skinned women, featuring a high fashion model and a popular YouTuber. Here’s why this episode works so well.
Ebony, the darkest and rarest of woods, has been desired and held in high regard throughout history; however, while craftsmen and connoisseurs value ebony as the most prized wood, skin tones of that same rich color are often not held in such high esteem. Those blessed to have it often struggle with questions of its desirability as well as limited availability of makeup products and techniques that showcase it properly.
That’s why it’s no small matter when a major television show features ebony-skinned models in a beauty tutorial designed just for them. Harry, the eponymous talk show hosted by Harry Connick Jr., recently featured gorgeous dark-skinned model Nyakim Gatwech and beauty blogger Nyma Tang in a makeup demo that highlights the beauty of dark skin.
Louisiana -born singer and bandleader Connick, known for bringing back the sounds of classic jazz ballads and big bands to a modern, worldwide audience, has also proved his skills as an actor and now talk show host. Now in its second season with a solid daily viewership of about 1.4 million households, Harry features Connick’s engaging interview style and a rich showcase of talented musical guests.
Product and technique demos are common in talk and infotainment-style news shows but demos that take into consideration the unique beauty needs of black women are rare–and when they haphazardly attempt diversity without looking at those needs, the results tend to go horribly wrong. (Recall, for example the Today Show’s 60 second summer hair tutorial 2016 that made African American model’s curly hair look like a hot mess, sparking internet outrage).
In the Harry segment before the makeup tutorial, Connick did a one-on-one sit down interview with fashion model Gatwech, who has also developed a huge online following thorough Instagram. Dubbed “Queen of the Dark” by fans, Gatwech lives in the United States but her family is from South Sudan, a region that historically cradled ancient civilizations and in modern times is the youngest nation on the map. In the interview, Gatwech –whose ebony skin, delicately carved features and petite frame call to mind the international star and Lancôme brand ambassador Lupita Nyong’o –revealed that upon coming to the United States, she was bullied for having dark skin and even asked by an Uber driver if she would ever lighten her skin “to make life easier.” Her answer: no.
While Gatwech’s look lends itself to haute couture (certain modeling opportunities such as music videos have an unofficial ban on dark-skinned models), Gatwech nevertheless faces challenges associated with being a dark-skinned model in the fashion industry. She revealed to Connick in the interview that she is often asked to come “makeup ready”—to provide her own makeup, and arrive on set with it already applied—in order to accommodate employed makeup artists who have no knowledge of how to enhance the full spectrum of human skin tones.
When it was time for the makeup tutorial, Connick and Gatwech were joined by Nyma Tang, a YouTube makeup guru who has garnered a following of nearly half a million subscribers on her channel “The Darkest Shade.” Tang is internet-famous for trying out the darkest shade of foundation of a plethora of beauty lines from high-end boutique to drugstore brands. On her channel, by the way, Tang gave Rihanna’s newly released Fenty Beauty a great rating! Tang, a lovely, cherubic-faced beauty with a similar complexion to Gatwech’s, explained the importance of getting a foundation with the right undertones. When she applied Lancôme foundation to Gatwech’s skin, it matched perfectly.
She also applied concealer, and explained to Connick that concealer in this context is used more for adding dimension rather than covering up discoloration. While she didn’t use setting powder in the tutorial, Tang noted that when selecting one, it’s important to find powder that does not have a white undertone, which causes flashback. Connick marveled, “The only flashbacks I’m getting are from junior prom when I could never have gotten close to a girl like either one of you!” to which the two beauties, dressed in bright colors that accented their skin, smiled bashfully, revealing dazzling pearly white teeth.
Gatwech’s eyes were already gorgeously made up, so Tang went on to apply the final accent: a cherry red lip color. Believe it or not, the use of red lip color on dark skin is highly controversial among American blacks, who for decades were exposed to cruel Sambo caricatures that made the red-on-black look a grotesque parody of their features. Rapper ASAP Rocky infamously weighed in on the subject in a 2013 Coveteur magazine interview when he said that dark-skinned women can’t get away with wearing red lip color. His remarks sparked internet backlash and, more constructively, the #DarkSkinRedLip Project, a social media affirmation started by Karyn Washington to encourage black women, particularly of darker hues, to post beautiful photos of themselves in red lipstick or gloss.
In the end, seeing Gatwech’s dark chocolate skin made up perfectly and punctuated with a maraschino cherry red lip was a moment of revelation, a vision of physical perfection and joy. While beauty is only skin deep, the things that surround it–a context, appreciation, useful products and regimens, and most importantly self-esteem, those things–are not at all superficial.
Great work, Harry, Nyma and Nyakim—as well as the production team behind the Harry show. This was extraordinarily well done.