At the time of Aina’s — and Princess Tiana’s — emergence on the screen, dark-skinned women were hardly represented anywhere in media. Naomi Campbell was one of the only models of a darker complexion on magazine covers. Some of the most-viewed shows and movies among young people that year included the first season of MTV’s “Jersey Shore,” “The Hills,” and “Hannah Montana: The Movie,” all of which contained very little racial diversity.
Aina, however, used her then-small platform for one central purpose — to put black women in the center of the conversation.
When you click on Aina’s YouTube channel, you can see it’s a beauty channel: With bold thumbnails of dramatic facial expressions of her reacting to makeup products. But although Aina does the typical product review and haul videos like other beauty influencers, her channel really isn’t just about makeup. Aina dives straight into social and cultural commentary in a way that is both unexpected and educational.
“I strongly believe that because I’m black and because I’m dark-skinned, there’s certain ways that I have to communicate in order for it to be effective,” Aina said in an interview with The Post. “If I stand on a pedestal and yell at everyone about how angry I am about being ignored ... people don’t want to listen. It becomes the angry black woman trope. But if I have bullet points instead of ranting and find something to reel them in, then I’m making the message a bit more receivable.”
In March, the 31-year-old created a video about the Jordyn Woods, Khloe Kardashian and Tristan Thompson cheating controversy. She could’ve easily just made a makeup tutorial re-creating Woods’s look from her interview on Jada Pinkett Smith’s “Red Table Talk” and merrily spoke about relationships and the drama happening at the moment. But Aina took the opportunity to explain how the Kardashian-Jenner family treats black people. This was a much different approach than how other websites, YouTubers and even journalists covered the topic. Paper Mag published a story on what to wear when you’ve been publicly harmed and focused on the outfits of women who gave sit-down interviews on-camera after a scandal.
“I’m looking at patterns here," Aina said in the video. "I feel like there’s a lot of low-key disrespect and disregard. I noticed that Kardashians, like, in particular, play up on black culture, black bodies, black pop culture, but then the moment they can’t use you they just, boom, dispose. I don’t think that’s okay.”
The movie incorporates traditional Disney elements such as love, transformation, music and a happy ending, which fits into the landscape of what audiences are used to seeing. But despite being the first Disney film with majority black characters, race isn’t directly pointed out in the film, but implied. In one scene, Princess Tiana encounters discrimination at the hands of two white lawyers who question her ability to afford property she wants to purchase to open a restaurant.
“A little woman of your background would had her hands full, trying to run a big business like that,” one of the men says in the movie. Although the characters deal with the prejudice that goes along with being black in New Orleans in the 1920s, they are for the most part cheerful, optimistic and non-alienating. In a similar way to how Aina uses beauty to talk about social issues, Disney uses fairy tales to illustrate larger points.
Aina and “The Princess and the Frog” are obviously very different. But both are sort of one big jambalaya in their genre. They incorporate a range of subject matters and categories while being able to touch on serious social issues and still occupy space in their mainstream, high-grossing industries that have been typically dominated by white people. And beyond that, they get young and older African American women excited.
Aina has amassed 3 million subscribers mainly because of her unapologetic commentary on trending topics and how it relates to blackness. When the “Princess and the Frog” was released, it received criticism for illustrating Princess Tiana as a frog for much of the movie and its illustration of voodoo, but the film was widely praised. Coverage of reaction to the movie included scenes of African American girls and women speaking with tears in their eyes because they finally saw a Disney film where the main character resembled themselves.
Today, there are more darker-skin characters on screens, and successful black beauty YouTubers such as Nyma Tang and MonicaStyle Muse. Yet Aina continues to use her niche within the beauty space to effectively communicate more about black womanhood and issues directly impacting the black community.
Amber Ferguson is the Local video editor for The Washington Post.