Kodachrome Film Was Racist

Rosie Cima, Priceonomics:

As mentioned earlier, in film photography, color balance has a lot to do with the chemical composition of the film. For many decades, color film in the United States was calibrated to highlight Caucasian skin tones. This was the most fundamental problem. With an unusual degree of skill and attention, a photographer could compensate for the biases in most stages of production. But there was nothing they could do about the film’s color balance. When the famous New Wave filmmaker Jean Luc Godard was commissioned to make a film about Mozambique, he reportedly refused to use Kodachrome film — the most popular color film at the time. He complained the film, developed for a predominantly white market, was “racist.”

Two of Kodak’s largest professional accounts — chocolate confectioners — complained about the film’s inability to render different chocolate colors; it was then and only then — parents have been complaining about graduation photos — Kodak improved the chemical composition and developed Kodacolor VR-G, later rebranded Kodacolor Gold.

If Kodak’s raison d’être was “develop the best tools to capture visual memories,” the company’s future might have turned out differently.