Who is Kim Toni from Netflix’s Itaewon Class?

Netflix just wrapped its season finale of the popular Korean drama, Itaewon Class and we’re all crying.

One of the most talked about stars is Kim Toni, played by Chris Lyon, who’s fluent in English and Korean. The show centers around a character named Park SaeRoy, played by Park SeoJoon who was recently released from prison and his journey with opening up a bar in Itaewon. While it shows his journey, the show also highlights the life of five other free-spirited and ambitious young adults in his life.) As we watch the trailer and see the star-filled cast showcase their amazing acting skills towards the end, there is one actor who stood out. 

Debut poster for Itaewon Class

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One of its most heralded stars is Chris Lyon, a 27-year-old African American from the United States. It’s historic as South Korea, a mostly homogenous country has never had a foreigner become one of its dramas’ stars. But the drama’s breaking barriers by not only showcasing a three-dimensional, non-stereotypical black character but also a trans character as well. Along with the awesome storytelling, it’s no wonder the series is already trending in the top 10 most-watched series on Netflix in various countries.

In the show, Lyon plays Kim Toni, a Guinean character who came to Korea in hopes to find his Korean father and is working part-time in a restaurant. 

At times, his character faces racism, based on real life.  “There have certainly been several times where I’ve found myself in the exact same situation as Toni did in the show,” Chris tells Very Good Light. “It’s frustrating when you do meet people like that, but there have been Korean friends who have stood up for me in those situations. It’s really heartwarming to see people’s reactions to it.”

Chris Lyon as Kim Toni

It’s a challenge Chris and many foreigners face in Korean media. With the ethnic makeup of South Korea being over 99% Korean, it’s often tricky when it comes to writing in diverse characters who aren’t based on stereotypes or tired tropes. Historically blackface has been implemented into entertainment and is unfortunately still prevalent today. While many do not mean to insult African Americans it still is because of the lack of diverse writers or cultural and historical context. 

Which is why Chris’s representation of black people is so important. But the actor’s path to stardom in South Korea wasn’t planned. 

Growing up in Orlando, Florida his only relation to Korea as a child was through a children’s song titled, 산토끼 (Mountain Rabbit) that his mother learned from a Korean friend and would sing to Chris. Later in high school and college, he’d befriend Korean exchange students. They shared both of their cultures which piqued his interest in Korea and the entertainment industry. It’s only after completing his degree in Information Technology at Andrews University he decided to move to Korea. 

The drama’s breaking barriers by not only showcasing a three-dimensional, non-stereotypical black character but also a trans character as well.

“When I first moved to Korea I struggled the most with the things I took for granted: getting an apartment, setting up bank accounts, getting a phone,” he says. “The systems are slightly different than the US.”

Almost immediately, Chris became a working model, while working in music. He ended up getting his first gig working on a project with Big Bang’s G Dragon and the shopping conglomerate, Shinsegae. That led him to work on his first film, “Live Hard.” The indie film would prove to be life-changing as it eventually won the audience award at Bucheon Film Festival the following year. The role caught the eye of the movie’s scriptwriter, who was also working on Itaewon Class. He recommended Chris audition. “Honestly, that time is still a little bit of a blur to me. I want to say anywhere between a few days to 2 weeks,” he says. “There was some correspondence before we had any actual meetings, though.”

But the real work came after landing the gig. “I feel like becoming fluent is a never-ending process,” he says. “There are always subtleties that are buried in the nuances of a language. Expressions themselves and the intonations that are used for each expression are so different from Latin or Germanic based languages. I think that’s what made acting as Kim Toni so much of a challenge for me.” 

Chirs Lyon Headshot

On set, he recalls a time that the drama’s lead Park Seo Joon supported him. “I remember the first day of shooting he (Park Seo Joon) pulled me to the side to sit down with me and went over my script with me one-on-one to show me how he prepares,” he says. “He’s a real veteran and had so much to think about with his role and his lines. So for him to take the time out like that was something that I think not a lot of people would do. He’s a really great friend.” 

His other costars have also given him a few pointers: “Ryu Gyeong-su and Kim Da-mi have both given great advice on not sounding like I grew up in the countryside, apparently I’ve picked up a dialect that sounds from rural Korea. – The main cast gets together from time to time when we’re not busy to go out to eat for dinner or just have fun. It’s like a small family. 

While he’s becoming more fluent with the country, he’s also learning to appreciate Korea more each day. “I wish people realized how much inspiration you can get from other cultures like Korea,” he says. “There’s an entirely different set of social references that people make memes out of, an entirely different way they tell stories, an entirely different way they portray emotions. There are definitely similarities, and I think movies like Parasite and TV shows like Itaewon Class are really bringing that untouched sea of inspiration to people’s attention.”

In his day to day life as a foreigner in Korea, he is also able to see the stark differences between how masculinity is perceived in Western Culture and Asian Culture: “Surprisingly now even to me, not that different these days. Even 5-10 years ago, I feel like there was a huge difference in style and fashion. kim toni itaewon class netflixI think cultures both in the East and West have really started to be exposed to a lot of different types of masculinity.”

With all the love Itaewon Class is getting, Lyon is becoming a known celebrity across Korea: “The attention Itaewon Class has gotten has been different than anything I’ve been apart of before. It’s difficult for me to even walk out of my house to the convenience store down the road without getting stopped on the street now. I absolutely love meeting all of my fans. They’re all interesting people! It just takes some getting used to. I guess I just still think of myself as a normal person.” 

Black men and self-care. What are we missing?

It’s about time we face the facts.

Throughout the beauty and entertainment industry, the narrative surrounding black men has lacked a key component: black men and self-love.  

Thankfully, with the rise of social media and the evolution of technology, we continue to witness the black and brown communities challenge these inaccurate narratives. And with that, black men are using their voices and platforms to speak for themselves and showcase what it means to practice self-love.

SEE ALSO It’s okay to not be okay.

Social media movements like #BlackBoyJoy or #WeAreGolden both highlight two important topics when it comes to black men: Challenging a narrative in society that has been created by white patriarchal culture and the lack of representation in the entertainment industry still today. These hashtags have brought awareness and shined a light on humanization that Hollywood has historically stripped black men of. 

While there has been some progress, culture continues to miss the mark when it comes to representing black men in all their glory. 

One aspect comes from media. According to IndieWire, out of the top 100 films of 2019, only 34% of the films had leads or co-leads that were of color. When it came to filming directors that same year, 80% of them were white men. The numbers don’t lie. Those in power seem to all look a certain way. It’s also stems from a system that forces black men to still play by a certain set of rules. 

Historically, during the Jim Crow era, white men installed “rules” to strip black men of their masculinity because of their fear of “black power.” In turn, this bred stereotypes around black men, which still exists in Hollywood since. This consistent history of degradation black men in America has had real emotional and psychological repercussions. 

“Social media movements help challenge a narrative in society that has been created by white patriarchal culture and the lack of representation in the entertainment industry still today.”

But black men are apprehensive to seek help. According to the American Psychological Association, 86% of therapists in America are white. Black therapists make up only 4%, the lowest amount of representation. It matters who you speak with as it’s often difficult to be vulnerable when the expert you’re speaking to cannot even fathom your own experience.

Society continues to miss the mark when it comes to representing black men in all their magnificence but the narrative is changing. Very Good Light had the honor to speak with five Black men to ask them how they came into their own, despite their circumstance.

While some can recall self-care practices being instilled in them as a young child with the help of strong role models, others said that self-care evolved over time. From celebrity stylist to CEO’s in this project of a diverse pool we hope their words can shine a light on a narrative that is often overlooked when it comes to them.

Terrell Britten, 30, Licensed Esthetician

A photo of Terrell Britten

At the young age of 14, I found out what I was passionate about skincare. I received my first skincare set from Anthony-a skincare line for men and it was then that I knew I wanted to get serious about finding what worked for me and making sure that my skin stayed balanced. Every time I would get paid or received money from my grandparents, I would end up in the skincare aisle. 

After graduating high school, I just knew I couldn’t let society choose my path on how I should look, or act, or even talk because they aren’t me, I’m me. By living in a box that society tries to put you in, you begin to realize that you can’t evolve into your higher being. With this in mind, I decided to follow my passion for skincare and pursuing a career as an Esthetician. 8 years later, you can find me across Sephora campaign ads all across the United States.

As my career kicked off, and my place in the beauty world became more and more prevalent something was missing. Some days, I wake up on the wrong side of the bed, and in order to show myself self-love, I speak daily affirmations while doing my skincare routine, through this, I find that I am taking care of my skin and my mental health simultaneously. 

“I’m here for a purpose and there is a reason why I’m still here telling my story and I am grateful for each day.” 

I began using my Instagram account to not only focus on skincare but on daily affirmations too. 

I felt the need to share how I start my days off because I am all about uplifting and empowering others to be their best self and do what makes them radiate positivity. It is also a great way of getting people up and motivated and showing them self-care is everything, so why not show the world?

All in all, self-care is simply what you make of it, it’s what gives you peace of mind. Beauty is a big part of my identity and it fuels me to help others feel more confident, fearless and more powerful about themselves as well. 

Calvin Quallis, 37, CEO of Scotch Porter 

A photo of Calvin Quallis

It all started when I was a little boy, I’ve always been my own worst critic. I’ve never allowed society’s narrative to dictate how I move and what I feel about myself. I think it has everything to do with being raised by a bunch of very strong black women, that were self-aware and super confident.

“I was taught the basics, get up shower, brush your teeth, wash your face and comb and brush my hair.” 

Today, I spend a little more time in the mirror, with the belief that men should not have to break the bank to look and feel like a boss. I began to develop products that disrupt the multicultural grooming space, utilizing my collections to promote the importance of health and wellness amongst men globally. So, getting up each morning, and spending time, whether that’s 5 minutes for some or 30 minutes for others, in front of the mirror taking care of your hair, beard, and skin to me is an expression of self-care and wellness. This may sound a bit biased but I religiously use our Restoring Face Wash, Moisture Defend Face Lotion, our Smoothing Hair Balm and SkinMedica’s Essential Defense SPF 35.  

Self-care does not stop in the bathroom, as it comes in different forms. I also get a workout in about two times a week along with meditating every morning and I practice gratitude. Before thinking of all the things that I have to do for the day, I think of all the things that I’m grateful for. It always begins with me being grateful for waking up to a new day, followed by whatever else I’m grateful for, like being able to pick up the phone and call my mom, or something very simple, like enjoying a cup of coffee.

Being present forces me to focus less on what I don’t have and find happiness in the simple things that I do have. It keeps me grounded and focused on all the great things that I have going on in my world and much less focused on the long to-do lists and stressful day ahead.

I read something that Oprah Winfrey said a while ago, that has stuck with me. She said, “I got so focused on the difficulty of the climb that I lost sight of being grateful for simply having a mountain to climb”. Perspective is everything.

CJ Mitchel, 26 New York Wardrobe Stylist & Social Media Influencer

In today’s fast-moving world we sometimes tend to forget about putting ourselves first and making sure that we are okay. We make time for our friends and family and leave ourselves last. Self-care to me looks like pure joy and genuine happiness from within. Growing up in the south I was taught about how society labels a black man and the rules or opinions on how a man should act or become.

“I wanted to be the author of my own story. I didn’t like the feeling of needing to live up to someone else’s standards.” 

The aha monumental moment came when I began to witness some of my family members take routes in their lives that caused bad consequences. Instantly, the light bulb clicked in my head and that’s when I told myself “That’s not what I want for me, I want better for myself. What good would it be if I follow in their footsteps? I will just get the same results that they did.”

I began to prioritize a self-care routine for myself in college. For me, it was more than hygiene or skincare products it was about making sure that I was centered and in a positive mood before I start my day. With the help of prayer and meditation, I was able to do so. As my mental health progressed, my skin health began to as well. I started using a number of things throughout the year as the season changes like most people. I am currently finding that Cocoa Butter works for my body and facial care. I also swear by a brand called Urban Skin RX. They specialize in products for people who have melanin and I love it. 

If I could go back and speak with 16 years old me, I would tell him to seek your own happiness within yourself and not from materialistic things. To always put yourself first, to never seek validation from others and lastly, to keep believing in your dreams and goals no matter how big they are, shoot for the stars.

Saleam Singleton, Beauty, Skincare and Style Enthusiast AKA The Method Male

A photo of Saleam Singleton.

When I was a teenager, self-care came naturally to me. I love myself and I want to take care of my mind, my body. This doesn’t mean that I’m perfect, or fully assembled as a person – but I’ve been practicing self-care for as long as I could remember, before “self-care” was in the vocabulary.  I’ve created habits that turned into my lifestyle like eating clean as much as I possibly can, staying on top of my mental health, and being emotionally aware by being honest with myself. 

Self-care to me is when you listen to yourself, what you need to improve or maintain, physically and beyond

“Self-care is often mistaken as merely skincare or taking a bath but I’ve learned that there is no one answer, it is about self-awareness before anything else.”

You can’t work on what you don’t know and whereas I don’t feel responsible for rewriting what forces outside of myself think of me or my existence because I’m too busy making sure I can be happy with who I am. I use my Instagram Profile the Method Male to represent a growing demographic – men of color and their relationship to self-care, a unique voice that challenges current beauty norms.

Reflecting back, if I could I would encourage my younger self to first discover what self-worth is-then he might be prepared for the life ahead. I would tell him to feel comfortable in his beauty, his skinniness, his uniqueness. I’d also give him this piece of advice: “Most of the bs people will project onto you, will have absolutely nothing to do you. Go out there and be a dreamer.”

Dr. Melvin L. Williams 31, Assistant Professor and Communications Scholar

A photo of Dr. Melvin Williams.

Self-care is both a personal process and struggle, for life can be chaotic yet fulfilling at times as a University Professor. 

The constant giving of yourself for the uplift of humanity can sometimes leave one feeling burned out and asking, “Who is going to encourage the encourager?”

Nonetheless, my self-care consists of peaceful evenings with Tom Misch’s Geography album playing in the background, witty Instagram direct message sessions with my Howard and Tennessee State University friends, empowering phone conversations with my parents or mentor, Dr. Tia Tyree, and most recently, Joseline’s Cabaret on the Zeus Network.

“As an openly gay, Black man, drowning out societal narratives of Black heteronormative masculinity has been pivotal in embracing the richness and texture of my identity.”

I experienced homophobia very early in my childhood, and it made me yearn for opportunities to explore the experiences of Black LGBTQ community members. Sadly, those moments did not arrive, as I struggled silently in the closet until 2014. 

I achieved an active voice as a doctoral student at The George Washington University in a Spring 2014 “Genders of Popular Culture” course taught by Dr. Todd Ramlow, an openly gay professor. It was the first time that I witnessed a professor be unabashedly gay in his classroom instruction and encourage my scholarly interests in Black queer studies. I would not be as fearless or as committed to my LGBTQ students if I had not first experienced Dr. Ramlow.

I began to prioritize a self-care routine in 2015. Fresh from graduate school, I was beginning to prepare for my 30s, and I knew that physical fitness and mental health had to become top priorities if I were to birth the career I envisioned. Consequently, I implemented a strict diet of clean eating, a rigorous workout regiment, mandated personal development meditations and readings, and spiritual cleansings of negative acquaintances and energy. In terms of daily practices, I work out twice a day, achieving a minimum of six miles and a thirty-minute; high-intensity interval training (HIIT) session; listen to The New York Times’ The Daily podcast during breakfast, and engage in a daily ten-minute reflection with Yogi tea. 

If I could go back in time and speak with little Melvin, I would tell him, “Breathe easy kid! God has a feast for you so big that even at 31, you will still struggle to digest.”

Art by Mia Saine @mia.saine

Kidd Kenn is the queer rapper bringing beauty to hip hop

Hip hop: There’s an opportunity to expand masculine notions.

While most of the music industry has evolved to break gender norms, it seems like a few in the rap community is still behind and tends to fall back into hyper-masculinity. The good news is there are many new players in the game looking to turn hip-hop into a more inclusive community. Think: Young Thug with his genderless ensembles, Bad Bunny and his affinity for nails, and a name you might not be familiar with, but should be: Kidd Kenn.

At only 17-years old, Kenn has broken more boundaries than most rappers throughout their careers by being the first openly queer rapper to sign to Island Records, perform onstage with Kehlani, and headline Red Bull Music’s Renaissance One Pride event in 2019 — all with a face that’s freshly beat to the gods.

SEE ALSO: 3 dancers on their glow-inducing skincare regimens

With his mixtape, Child’s Play, dropping this Friday, we can’t help but wonder what else our favorite technicolor-haired rapper has in store for us. Very Good Light caught up with Kidd Kenn in NYC to chat all things beauty (of course), rap, and more!

What have you been up to?

“I’ve been working, working, working… making new music. I’m working on a lot of different stuff; a little bit of pop. I’m just stepping into different lanes, showing different sides of myself.”

Why rap?

“Because it makes me feel like a bad bitch.”

There’s a lot of machismo, toxic masculinity that’s still seeping into the hip hop community. How are you working to challenge that?

“I just do me, and I make sure everything I do is on point to stay valid. Nobody can’t really say nothing bad about it if my music’s good, regardless of how I look.”

You’re all about authenticity. How did you discover your confidence, especially when you’re so young?

“I’m not really sure. I just woke up one day and I just realized that this is life, and I get one turn with it. So, I just have to live for me and do what makes me happy. I can’t waste time thinking about how other people think of me or how everyone else lives, it’s just not going to benefit me in any way. I can’t really care about how everyone feels, because I’m going to live my life how I want to. I can’t let other people live my life, so I just started doing me and I ain’t turning back.”

You’re from Chicago. How was it coming up there and finding your rap career, as well as your overall identity?

“It was fun. I hung out with my friends all of the time, just kickin’ it around the hood. It was lit, though. Growing up in Chicago was great.”

What’s your connection to beauty?

“My barber does all of my colors for me, and I do different colors because I don’t like looking the same all of the time. I like to switch it up.”

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Ion even Fuck with dat….

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Who’s one style inspiration for you?

“Nicki Minaj. Her business and how she works is just so inspiring to me. If I could switch closets with anyone for a day, it would be Nicki — she’s got the whole Fendi collection, after all. Or maybe Kylie Jenner, I saw her closet and it’s insane. Her closet is like a house, she has a whole room just for bags. I love Lady Gaga’s style, too.”

What are your favorite beauty trends of the moment right now?

“I love my eyebrows, and I love highlight.”

What beauty brands are you into right now?

“I use MAC Cosmetics a lot — now that I think about it, all of the makeup I use is MAC. For my hair, I couldn’t even tell you. I use so many things for my hair, especially the colors. 

What’s your beauty routine?

“I’m not gonna spill all of my secrets, but I dye my hair a lighter color and then just spread the color on so it comes out this bright. Then I just wrap it every night to make it look fresh.

“For skincare, I wash my face every day. I get a rag, warm it up in the microwave for 30 seconds, make sure that it’s real hot. Then, lay it on your face, and let the steam do its thing. When it cools down, wipe your face. Then use lotion, and you’re set.”

Who are your favorite designers of the moment?

“I get all of my clothes from Boohoo, I love Boohoo. But, I don’t mind a pair of Balenciaga’s every now and then.”

What advice do you have for men in regard to beauty?

“I feel like makeup is supposed to enhance your beauty, not make you feel different. So, just ease into it and don’t overboard with it. I incorporate all of my natural flaws into my makeup, and it makes me feel good. But, at the end of the day, just do whatever you want to do — just do you.”

A message to the beauty industry: Black boys aren’t going anywhere

Since the rise of male makeup gurus on social media, seeing men in beauty campaigns is no longer a rarity.

Morphe tapped Jeffree Star and James Charles for collections, Manny MUA starred in a Maybelline campaign, MAC’s new “it” star is Patrick Starrr, Bretman Rock joined forces with ColourPop and Gabriel Zamora is a spokesperson for ipsy. But, while brands are welcoming plenty of men and even men of color like Gabriel, Bretman, Patrick and Manny in their makeup campaigns, black men seem to be missing from this new landscape.

SEE ALSO: Black masculinity and when you don’t fully belong

Arguably, being a black influencer of any kind comes with challenges, but being a gay black man working in an industry that constantly fails to be wholly inclusive is an uphill battle of its own.

Take Kameron Lester (@kam_lester), for instance. He’s an L.A.-based beauty influencer with nearly 25,000 followers on Instagram and more than 40,000 subscribers on YouTube, but despite his talent and healthy following, Kameron tells Very Good Light that he feels invisible within the larger industry.

“(Companies) don’t bother looking at you or supporting you. They just look past you,” he says of the imbalance between black and white beauty influencers. “It’s harder to get recognition from big brands being a smaller black talent. As black talent you grow a little bit slower and it’s harder to get recognized.”

According to Ernest B. James, founder of Noire Management, which exclusively manages black influencers, brands are hesitant to “pay what the influencer is worth.” In fact, in Ernest’s experience working with influencers and brands, though it wasn’t confirmed, “influencers of color are regarded best for gifting or lower rates.” If brands want to be inclusive, he adds, they have to be willing to pay.

The struggle to be acknowledged extends beyond getting paid. Kaliff Jones (@makeup.messiah), 21, says that people of color have to work ten times harder than other influencers for a brand to like or repost a photo.

L.A. influencer Victor Ramos (@vicmram), 22, who was featured in a Make Up For Ever Campaign, says the industry’s exclusion of people who look like him is obvious.

“There’s tons of brands that know who I am,” he says. “There’s tons of brands that are fully aware that I and other people exist, but they still don’t invite (black) influencers to events. People are so conditioned into thinking that black influencers don’t bring in the same amount of dollars.”

Inclusive brands achieving sold-out status proves black faces do sell

This notion that black faces don’t sell isn’t new, of course. Former Vogue UK editor-in-chief Alexandra Shulman told The Guardian in 2017, after standing down from her position, that her “chief remit was not to show ethnic diversity as a policy.” In other words, putting black faces on her covers meant “you would sell fewer copies. It’s as simple as that.”

But launches like Fenty Beauty’s stunning, inclusive foundation range and Jackie Aina’s (@jackie_aina) Born this Way x Too Faced Cosmetics collaboration both quickly achieving sold-out status prove Alexandra’s assumptions wrong. Black people want to see themselves and they will pay.

“I see brands make excuses such as, ‘Oh, no one would buy this,’ or ‘That’s not our audience,'” blogger Alissa Ashley (@alissa.ashley), who collaborated with NYX on an inclusive foundation line, told Refinery29 in 2018: “But when brands do provide these (darker) shades, most of them end up selling out.”

According to a 2018 Nielsen report, black consumers spend nine times more on beauty products annually than any other ethnic group. Cheryl Grace, Nielsen’s Senior Vice President of U.S. Strategic Community Alliances and Consumer Engagement commented in the report on the power of the black consumer: “Our research shows that Black consumer choices have a ‘cool factor’ that has created a halo effect, influencing not just consumers of color, but the mainstream as well.”

‘We’re conditioned to think that there’s only one spot for a black person’

Being overlooked and feeling undervalued has created an environment of tokenism and competition between black men in the influencer industry, says Victor. “I think that we’re just conditioned to think that there’s only one spot for a black person.”

Justin Marcus (@jay_lindoo), a 21-year-old influencer from New York City, agrees. “A lot of male influencers in the community don’t like to see others win. People will love you until they feel like you’re so successful they can’t reach you anymore, and start bashing you.”

Victor had a similar experience when an influencer with a large following “publicly told me they didn’t support me because I already got PR and went to events, but they were outwardly supporting huge white influencers who are damn well getting more than I am. It just goes to show how we pick and choose and put each other on a double standard.”

Though the feeling of competition can divide, coming together is more important, says Charlotte, N.C. influencer Tavaris Jefferson (@varijstylez), 24. “I wasn’t looking for people higher than me. I was looking for people around me who could build with me. We forget that there are other people around us that are in the same predicament we’re in. If we lift each other’s brand and build up, it’ll be a better look.”

And, throwing sexuality into the mix adds another dimension to black influencers’ fight to be seen. Despite the glam lives they promote on social media, being visibly queer can have repercussions.

Just existing as a gay black man can be life threatening, but wearing makeup pushes that even further

“Black men are fighting so many battles,” says Ernest. “Not only are they fighting people who see them just as black men and as a threat regardless, they’re also fighting their own people who don’t accept them because they’re gay and play in makeup. Within an already marginalized group, they’re marginalized even further.”

Dr. Pamela Valera, lead author of a study examining the relationship between police violence and media portrayals of black men, says that portraying black men in positive spaces can possibly banish negative stereotyping.

“We need to provide more positive spaces for people of color and for black men to be themselves and show all of themselves in a space that’s not going to assume they’re hypersexual or hypermasculine.”

The recent alleged hate crime against Empire star Jussie Smollett shows just how vulnerable gay black men remain in today’s society – even as they put on a brave face. “I’m always discriminated against in public – in or out of makeup – but I never let the negativity take over my mind,” says Kaliff, who lives in Mississippi. “I just smile and wave.”

But the beauty industry that has the ability to normalize portrayals of black men in cosmetics by utilizing the power of black beauty influencers to make cultural change.

Brands have the power to make the beauty industry a safe space for black men

“(Brands) definitely made it more of a safe space for me,” says Kenneth D. Senegal (@heflawless), an L.A.-based influencer featured on Fenty Beauty and MAC’s social channels, among others. “Brands have the power when it comes to making a space acceptable for a creator. The more they share my posts, the more it makes it acceptable to an audience in general.”

But, inclusivity must be authentic, says Kenneth. “You can always tell who’s being fake. If I was messy I would just name brands, girl.”

“You have these companies who never made shades for black people, and suddenly Fenty Beauty came out and it’s like ‘Oh we’re seeing how much money Fenty Beauty made with all these darker shades, let’s get on it and expand our brand,'” adds Markevious Harris (@poetic_drugs), a 21-year-old influencer from Lagrange, GA.

Tavaris agrees: “A lot of beauty brands think diversity is a trend, and think it’s cute to put darker complexions in a campaign for shits and giggles. It’s not funny. It’s pandering,” he says. “Work with more people of color, and don’t work with them by just sending them products. Work with them by asking, ‘What could I do to help make our brand more diverse? What could I do to make a product not so ashy or not so orange?’ I think brands need to take into consideration that in order to make a change, you need to talk to the people that are affected.”

Fortunately, black beauty boys aren’t waiting around for corporations to finally get “woke” and make sweeping change a priority. They are more than prepared to take on the industry and speak up for themselves and their community, says Kenneth.

“The world might not be ready for black boys to forefront makeup campaigns, but black boys are.”