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22 June, 2021

An audacious script and big, bold performances

The beauty industry has long fed on the inferiority complexes of its customers, but a particular trend for skin lightening products suited to Asian markets made headlines in the mid-2010s for everything it said about inherent prejudice.
This trend was not necessarily new – think of the toxic lead-based face paints of 18th century Europe, for example.
But in this age of BLM and #metoo are we really still so desperate to equate lighter skin with beauty?
Enter Clearday cosmetics – a dynamic start-up making bank from White Pearl, a pan-Asian solution-in-a-tube to the shame of darker skin.
But while the profits might be increasing, so are the hits on their latest advertisement which has just gone viral, for all the wrong reasons.
We join the key staffers in the Singapore office while they scramble to figure out what went wrong, and whose head should roll for it.
A thought-provoking comedy, White Pearl swings between tender and anarchic as we meet 6 women from diverse Asian backgrounds, each trying to make it in make-up while juggling her own identity challenges.
The dialogue-driven script allows different perspectives on racism and feminism to be tossed back and forth over the boardroom table.
Flipping convention, there’s only one male character – a stalker-ish love interest embodying Gallic stereotypes whilst playing around with French feminist theory.
The messaging around the beauty industry itself is as you might expect: spoiler – it’s corrupt and walks a very fine line when it comes to legal levels of chemical inclusions and what counts as ‘organic’.
But the main takeaway here is around the complexity of identity politics and performance, particularly between those who identify as ‘Asian’ by any of many definitions.
This is a big, loud performance giving sharp dialogue to its leads, all of whom were stellar in this Brisbane production.
And while it doesn’t go anywhere particularly, unexpectedly deep, it certainly provokes discussion and self-reflection as you laugh/cringe while corporate culture, virtue signalling, and identity politics duke it out.