Lupita Nyong’o burst on the scene seemingly out of nowhere, wowing everyone with her acting chops in the 2014 Oscars’ Best Picture Of Year, 12 Years A Slave and stunning the world with her beauty. Dazzling all in a Nairobi blue dress and head band, the recent Yale School of Drama graduate’s evening climaxed when she received the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her first feature film role. She sealed the moment with an emotional speech that concluded with the following inspirational words… “When I look down at this golden statue, may it remind me and every little child that no matter where you’re from, your dreams are valid.” Lupita Nyong’o, a beautiful dark chocolate complexioned woman rocking a neatly trimmed natural hairstyle became an overnight sensation that even Lancôme could not ignore as she was recently appointed Lancôme’s first Black Brand Ambassador. Adorning the covers of major magazines like Marie Claire, New York Magazine and more, it appears the media cannot get enough of her.
No. Lupita is not the first Black woman to win an award at the Oscars or grace the cover of a magazine. In 1939, Hattie McDaniel, became the first Black woman to win an Academy Award, Best Supporting Actress, for her role in Gone With The Wind. Since then a handful of African American women including Hallie Berry, Dorothy Dandridge, Whoopi Goldberg, Diana Ross and others have taken home Academy Awards. Of course, supermodels Alex Wek, Iman, Beverly Johnson, Roshumba Williams, Tyra Banks, Naomi Campbell and more, along with many Black female celebrities like Kerry Washington, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Beyoncé and even the FLOTUS, Michelle Obama, have not only managed to make the cut for cover photos both nationally and internationally, but their images make regular appearances on magazine stands all over the world. So what’s the big deal you say?
We would be remiss if we did not talk about the history of the stereotyping of women of color in Hollywood. For centuries, one would be hard pressed to find positive images of non-Caucasian women in the media with Asian women being portrayed as subservient and overly sexual; Latino women as passive, unintelligent and dependent; Native American women as heartless and cruel and African American women as promiscuous, angry and in Aunt Jemima type roles. Media is a very powerful tool with the ability to shape society’s perception of groups of people. The continuous portrayal of less than favorable images has lasting effects on not only society but also the individuals within the groups.
The role of Patsy the slave, while it is a historic portrayal, is in line with many of the roles Black female actresses have been trying to escape. As a result, many African Americans take issue with the fact that Lupita received an award for playing a slave. 12 Years A Slave is an autobiography, an historical account through the eyes of Solomon Northrup, the author of the book. We can’t erase history. We can only try to pen a better story for the future. Should the movie have received so many accolades? Was another African American actress more deserving of the award? The answers to these questions are debatable and can be argued forever. What is a fact is that there is a need for more variety in the roles available for women of color. Thankfully as we are starting to see more diversity in filmmakers, we are slowly starting to see a wider variety of images of not only Black women, but women of color in general on the big screen.
In the meantime, there are generations of little girls, looking to the media and society for validation and acceptance. Black women and girls have been told over and over they are not beautiful. So much so that many have bought into European definitions of beauty, often leaving them feeling unattractive and inferior to their counterparts in other races. Darker complexioned Black girls are at the most risk, often left out of the media which is bombarded with images of fairer skinned African American beauties. Numerous studies have been done showing that a young girl’s self-esteem and perception of herself has a direct correlation with her performance in school and can hinder her from reaching her full potential. Prior to the Oscars, Lupita moved and inspired young girls of color everywhere with her touching speech at Essence’s Black Women in Hollywood detailing her journey to accepting herself and her individual brand of beauty. (See below)
Lupita represents progress and an image of hope for women and little girls who historically have not been celebrated by the media. The world has a come a long way from the days when only one complexion was considered to be beautiful. Today a young girl’s list of most beautiful woman can include pretty diverse multiracial mix of women from all over the world. This being said, there definitely is still room for improvement. It is takes time to change mindsets and opinions centuries old as well heal old wounds and pain caused from years of being ignored and undervalued by society. Lupita represents a band aid on the emotional scars many women and girls of color have as a result of being told by society and the media that they are the wrong complexion, their hair is the wrong texture or their nose is the wrong shape. Today the world celebrates Lupita’s beauty, a sign that world is getting closer to the day when the idea of beauty is one that incorporates all peoples, cultures and races. As model, Alex Wek said in response to Lupita’s mention of her in the Essence speech,
“…all women are beautiful and we should embrace each other. True beauty is born through our actions and aspirations and in the kindness we offer to others. Beauty should not be culturally relevant, it should be universal.”
Thank you for being you Lupita!
Check out some of Lupita’s hot cover photos below…