By Falen Hardge, The Hollywood Reporter/Style
Robin Wright Photo: Michael Kovac/Getty Images
David Colbert’s New York Dermatology Group kicked off efforts with the United Nations in L.A to promote awareness of the skin condition.
Robin Wright joined model Diandra Forrest and Ford v Ferrari star Caitriona Balfe at Los Angeles hotspot The Nice Guy in West Hollywood on Tuesday night to raise awareness of albinism. The event marked the kickoff for efforts by the New York Dermatology Group (NYDG) with the United Nations in L.A. to celebrate inclusivity on Human Rights Day by promoting diversity and raising awareness of the skin condition. Earlier Tuesday, NYDG held an albinism panel discussion with the UN at Marlborough School, a private all-girls school near Hollywood, before hosting the cocktail soiree “Une Nuit Blanche” that Wright attended.
Non-profit NYDG consists of doctors and humanitarians who advocate for skin health through education in an effort to tear down misconceptions about albinism, an inherited genetic condition that can lead to little melanin pigmentation in the skin, hair and eyes and often results in other health conditions, such as poor vision and susceptibility to skin cancer. Statistics show that, in the U.S., one in 18,000 to 20,000 people are living with albinism, while rates of albinism in other countries are as many as one in 3,000 people.
David Colbert — star dermatologist to Naomi Watts, Elon Musk, Jennifer Lawrence and Sienna Miller — founded NYDG and, along with the organization’s executive director Stephan Bognar, created the global campaign ColorFull in June 2019. The initiative aims to promote a positive narrative on albinism and explain how superstitions and false myths result in African people with albinism being kidnapped and even murdered.
According to the United Nations, the corpse of an albino person can be sold for upward of $70,000 to “witch doctors” in Africa, where there are superstitions “that albino parts bring wealth, power, or sexual conquest”; 75 albinos were reported as killed in Tanzania between 2000 and 2016 and crimes have also been recorded in Malawi and Burundi. Some families are afraid to send their albino children to school in fear that they will be captured and killed.
“We realized, while we were doing our field projects, [that] we have to work at the global level to bring awareness to the issue so people can stand up for human rights, to be a part of the conversation and listen to their stories and take action,” Bognar told The Hollywood Reporter.
Hollywood has taken note of the dangers albinos face and is urging the industry to get involved. Wright told THR that “a louder voice in every aspect of these situations to amplify and create engagement” will motivate the conversation of inclusivity. “It’s human nature to rubberneck and be a responsive person to beauty, to aesthetic, but if that opens the door and opens the eyes to the norm and that other marginalized group, so be it.”
Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o also has long advocated for albinism; she made her directorial debut in 2009 with In My Genes, a documentary she produced and edited that chronicles the lives of eight Kenyan albinos.
Forrest, who is living with albinism and has had a lot of firsts (including starring in a major beauty brand campaign, for Wet n Wild, in 2017), told THR that Hollywood can start the conversation of inclusion with albino people by “showing people the beauty in difference and diversity as normal,” as opposed to a narrative often created to highlight mainstream characters. Forrest also encourages a conversation of celebration versus pity to “shine a different light on the condition.” She said, “Don’t feel bad for me, I’m here!”
Though standards of beauty have shifted within recent years, more needs to be done to create an accurate depiction of diversity, Balfe said. “We have to get rid of this notion that there is only one ideal of beauty. We have a beautiful diverse world, why should that not be represented? People who are making the decisions need to be more open to including people and representing what society actually looks like,” Balfe said.
Colbert told THR that he would like to see movies and television shows featuring characters with the skin condition, who are depicted “like a mother and not a villain,” and he noted that “all James Bond movies have albino persons as villains and we need to call them out.”
“It takes awareness on the global scale for people to mobilize themselves and it starts in the West; we need to mobilize people in the West, because they have the money to bring over to these countries to have education workshops, to go to the radio, to do ad campaigns, to go into the schools, so break down these walls of ignorance,” Bognar told THR.“Today’s youth are much more engaged, much more active and they want to see change. The youth are much more energized so we have to tap into this energy and bring them to the table. The foundation has been laid. [They] understand the concept of inclusive diverse society. They get it.”