Does skin colour predict success in the entertainment industry?

Of late, I have been daydreaming about bizarre studies I would like to see the data and/or results of.  This, I believe, has been a function of three things:

1. Jetlag.  Kabcity recently returned from a lovely two week vacation in the US of A, which has been doing annoying things to his body clock (and yes Kabcity does occasionally enjoy referring to himself in the third person…don’t worry he won’t make it a habit)

2. My office moving from a location within walking distance to an area that’s a 20-minute auto ride away, allowing ample daily time for mind-wandering

3. Reading More Than Good Intentions and Poor Economics, both of which are about quantitative evaluations/studies of development projects

So during my jetlagged commute back from the office this evening after having recently attended a lecture by the authors of Poor Economics , I started thinking about what I’d do when I get home, and considered watching a Bollywood film.  Then I started wondering what it would be like if my life at that moment were a scene in Bollywood.  Looking around me, I noticed an average looking couple in an auto.  They were too dark to become mainstream Bollywood stars, which naturally led me to this very old hypothesis: Indian film stars are serially fairer than the average Indian.  I then started wishing I had some data showing me level of whiteness (can we measure skin colour?  I don’t know.  Will google) across various industries.  On my return home, I found a website listing Bollywood’s Top-Earning Celebrities, which included the following luminaries (photos are all from the hyperlinked website):

I had to make that in Word.  The hyperlink in the Shah Rukh Khan box is this.

These guys are all much whiter than the mean Indian whiteness.  The country’s most common profession by far is agriculture.  A google image search for “Indian Farmer Face” (without the “Face” it’s not very useful) yields this:

These guys are not as white as the film stars.

Are similar patterns observable in other places?  Eg, in the US does the “level of blackness” predict success in the entertainment industry among blacks?  Will Smith and Beyonce, the two black stars that immediately came to my mind, definitely seem whiter than the mean, but I definitely don’t know enough to make ridiculous sweeping generalizations like in the India case. Similarly though, what about whiteness of white actors?  It’s unusual to see super pale people on the big screen.

An interesting control case might be professional sports, where ability is likely matter more than anything else (this assumes no discrimination).

Some other tangential thoughts on India and skin – are white collar workers whiter than their blue-collar counterparts (if yes, how much of this is due to greater exposure to the sun?)?  Are Indians living outside the country whiter than those living in India? Are TV stars whiter than movie stars?

Other data I’d love to see :

  • How much does marriage cost the state?  This would include tax discounts but also things like judge costs of divorce cases. Revenue would include marriage license fee (if there is such a thing).
  • What has been the expenditure on randomized control trials in development?  Can we quantify the benefit of these?  A more detailed post on RCTs may be coming up soon.
  • What is the average daily revenue and profit of Delhi’s “traffic vendors”?  These are guys who sell random things to people in cars/autos.  Commonly seen items include model airplanes, coconut, magazines, and tools to clean your car.  How much does profit vary by type of product?  By part of Delhi?  Are there barriers to entry in this market?  Who are the suppliers and how are products selected?
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