‘Light Girls’ producer Stephanie Frederic on colorism and her Hollywood success

This post is in partnership with Essence. The article below was originally published at Essence.com.

By Charreah K. Jackson, ESSENCE

Bill Duke’s new documentary Light Girls shares the stories of lighter-toned women. Producer Stephanie Frederic knows the impact of colorism firsthand and considers the film the hardest project on her 150-film resume. See her career journey and advice for healing colorism.

Name: Stephanie Frederic
Title: CEO of FGW Productions
Location: Los Angeles
Hometown: Alexandria, LA

The gig: I am the producer of the documentary Light Girls which will premiered on the Oprah Winfrey Network January 19th. I am the CEO of FGW Productions, we produce footage and trailers for movies, television and documentaries to market to multicultural communities. I have worked on 150 movies including Ride Along 2 and The Princess and the Frog.

The journey: I started my career as a television news reporter for years with the intent of becoming a news anchor. When I moved to Los Angeles, I started interviewing celebrities and covering movies. I was approached by someone from a studio for an opportunity to help out on a little project for Disney (DIS). That was Toy Story. I continued to work with Disney and created my company in 1997. My company transformed into this business of helping to market movies to communities of color, which make up 51% of the box office.

The making of Light Girls: This documentary was the toughest thing I’ve ever done. Colorism is a tough conversation that Black women have been running from for a long time. When you touch a nerve, you find out there’s shock, there’s hurt and there’s pain. We interviewed over 250 men and women for this documentary. That’s six times more than what you would normally do, but there were so many stories. Every interview was emotional. I’m a light-skinned girl from New Orleans and I feel that this documentary was my family’s story. I wanted to be a part of it even though I tried to turn Bill Duke down because I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. It kept nagging at me, and I came back and told him yes.

Her Light Girls epiphanies: We have celebrities, business executives and everyday women from around the country, South Africa, Japan and the Caribbean. It was the everyday women that made the documentary. I don’t know how many celebrities would say, “I’m a light-skinned girl, because my mother was raped” or “I was involved in sex trafficking because they preferred light women, so they kidnapped me.” A lot of people think lighter skin gives you preference and privilege, but we have women that tell a totally different story.

Healing colorism: As Black women we’ve been cultured to compare and not connect. When it comes to the healing, we need to have honest conversations. We need to say to one another, “Hey. You know what? I was jealous of you” or “I didn’t like you” or “I so wish my skin was as beautiful and brown as yours.”

Being a Black woman in film: There’s power in sisterhood. Imagine what would happen if we all came together. I’m working with a group of women right now. We’re starting a women’s film fund, so we can start funding films and tell African-American and women’s stories.

Her biggest lesson learned: People matter. I’m good at what I do, but it takes a team for us to do what I do. You’ve got to make sure your people are taken care of and treat them right. I go by what Maya Angelou says, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Her stress reliever: My big thing now is marathon training. I run with a group of women. We’re called Thoroughbreds, because we’re over a certain weight and over a certain age.

Her work-life strategy: I think you can make time for what you want. Work balance is something that has always been a challenge. I take little mini-breaks, so I’m not exhausted at the end of the day. I also call my family and they always ground me.

Her superpower: My daily grind. I stop at nothing. That comes from my days as a reporter. You just keep going.

Her boss accessory: It’s all about the suit. I’ve got a couple power suits. I may go cheaper on the blouse, but not on the slacks or the jacket. It’s about the fit. I prefer Boss suits in navy.

Her career highlight: I interviewed Nelson Mandela right after he was elected president. The network I was working at didn’t want to pay for the trip, so I paid my own way on a credit card to Johannesburg. I’ve got a nice photograph with him and he autographed his election poster for me. That’s priceless.

Her tech must-haves: I love Uber and TaskRabbit. I’m a single woman, so every once in a while I need somebody to help me with things around the house. I no longer have to call that ex that I shouldn’t be calling.

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