about

At the age of 16, Karen Lum created, directed, and starred in this award-winning film about gender, race, and unrealistic beauty standards. She and William Tsang are featured visually portraying the spoken word poem written and performed by Adriel Luis, whose voice is heard throughout the video. The poem starts with a young man hitting on a young woman with several unsuccessful pickup lines, ultimately eliciting an unexpected response when he blurts out, “girl, what is your ethnic makeup?” Through artful word play with makeup words such as foundation, lipstick, and eye shadow, the poem and video tells the story about how she proceeds to educate him about topics such as the commodification of beauty, unrealistic and unattainable Anglicized beauty standards, how women are measured and valued for their appearance, and the importance of learning the histories of your people within social and historical context. The film was shot in 2005 in Lum’s hometown of Oakland, CA. The full text of the poem can be found here.

discussion

What messages about gender, race, and beauty standards does this poem highlight?

How does the poet use different meanings associated with words like “makeup” and “foundation” to talk about the pressures women face to conform to standards of beauty?

The poem was written and performed by poet Adriel Luis and the video was created and produced by Karen Lum. The story is told from the perspective of a young man approaching a young woman. Why is this a particularly impactful way to tell this story? How might these messages be received differently if it had been told from the perspective of the young woman, or if the voice performing the poem had been female?