This post is a response to a blog I read:
Lupita Nyong’o doesn‘t matter as much as you think. This is not to take away from any of her accomplishments, the stunning dresses and witty way she shared with the world on Twitter how to pronounce her name. There is no denying her beauty and her being one of a few darker skinned leading women in Hollywood, but what does that all matter? There is no doubt that her presence in todays media is a ray of hope for all those women out there who feel inferior because of the colour of their skin (or even those who don‘t). but what is really happening here? Is the colour of her skin really the issue?
When Gabourey Sidibe was nomiated for an Oscar in 2009 for her role in the film Precious, there was not a big fuss made about the fact that she was dark skinned. She was not heralded as an icon for black women to look up to, or a sign that Hollywood was finally opening its doors to embrace more melanin. Instead, she was the object of ridicule over her weight, and the subject of a front cover lightening scandal in the 25th anniversary edition of Elle magazine. Whoopi Goldberg became the second black female Academy Award winner in 1990, and although there wasn‘t a large media frenzy and presence as there is today and back in 2006, she didn‘t and still doesn‘t come into the conversation as a successful dark skinned woman.
So maybe what we are looking at is a question of beauty. As soon as the media portrays a dark skinned woman as beautiful, everyone wants to be a part of it, jump on the bandwagon and hold Lupita up as the what women should be aspiring to, to love their own skin and for the black community to embrace whatever skin tone they have. Love the skin you are in, but don‘t wait for the media hype. Lupita Nyong‘o and Hattie McDaniel belong in the same conversation.
Aside from her skin, Lupita is (by media standards) aesthetically beautiful. Small dress size, full lips, enticing eyes and a winning smile. She wouldn’t look out of place endorsing the latest dress by Prabal Gurung or a de la Renta, lipstick by Revlon or jewelry by Avianne. Lupita is now a brand, and someone who will be exoticised simply because being different sells more, all at the same time as fitting into the Hollywood perception of beauty. Gabourey or Whoopi never achieved that.
Lupita is what Hollywood has been searching for. An good actress who is cultrally diverse, articulate, humble and dark skinned. The Gabrielle Unions, Taarji P Hensons and Kerry Washingtons of the world, all fall short in one or more of these catergories, but most notably by how dark/light they are. Therefore, the exotisicm which faces Lupita is to be expected. If you are in the minority, you will always be spoken about as the minority. Everything that sets you apart will be talked about and amplified. If you are in the majority, everything else is looked at as strange and fascinating. For all of the articles, round table discussions and documentaries about good hair and dark vs light skin etc, I fail to see the reverse; a plethora of white celebrities and personalities discussing the tanning culture or the recent white girl squatting epidemic.
When the media lauds over a newcomer, like in the case of Lupita, we all hope that she becomes a pioneer; that her presence in Hollywood will usher in a new age of darker skinned men and women in leading roles, and throw sand on the fire that is colourism. The same with Obama. Everyone hoped that it would be the dawning of a new age, that now colour lines have been shattered because a black man is the most powerful man on earth. George Zimmerman and the state of Florida proved us wrong. We hoped that now we would see more and more young black men in office, less stigma about Africa (alas not about specific countries) and its apparant inability to produce leaders of good repute, save Madiba. It is a possiblity that when it is all said and done, Lupita will be a token as opposed to a pioneer; someone who is allowed in merely to prove society wrong. Hollywood doesn’t favour non dark skinned women because we have just had a dark skinned female Oscar winner. I can’t be rascist because I have a black friend.
There have been beautiful dark skinned actresses, musicians, athletes and entrepeneurs before Lupita. Debates will be had and bleaching cream will be bought long after Lupitas looks start to fade. It must also be said that for all the comments about her skin, it seems as though we have forgotten that she does wear make up, she does have stylists and Photoshop CS6 is available to download as a torrent. Complete with crack.
That being said, being in the throws of globalisation, interracial marriages (if there is such a thing as race), skin lightening and excessive tanning, we will soon all be beige anyway (Parker & Stone, SouthPark: Season 8 Episode 7).