Why Is The Mainstream So In Love With Lupita Nyong’o, Her Black Beauty?

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Lupita Nyong'o colorism

From Mark Brooks’ Facebook page.


Two days after Lupita Nyong’o accepted the “Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress” for her riveting portrayal of “Patsy” in “12 Years A Slave,” Jamie Broadnax sent out a tweet to her 15,000 followers saying that the Kenyan beauty should be America’s next shero:

Unexpected support from that tweet lead Broadnax, 34, to create a change.org campaign that petitions Marvel Entertainment to cast Nyong’o as the new “Storm” for the next X-Men film. So far, the petition has some 1,000 signees; it needs 50,000.

John Jennings, an associate professor of visual studies at the University of Buffalo whose research focuses on African-American representation in comic books, told NewsOne that Nyong’o would be a perfect fit.

“To see Lupita cast as a popular character like ‘Storm’ could be very empowering and exciting to see.”

He described how Nyong’o and “Storm” share identical backgrounds: the Mexico-born Nyong’o grew up in Kenya, while Storm was born in New York City as the child of Kenyan tribal princess “N’Dare”; both have distinct accents that can be traced to the continent of Africa. Jennings also acknowledged that if Nyong’o did take on the role eventually, her casting would address some of the colorism issues that have risen as a result of Halle Berry‘s portrayal of Storm.

This is one of the main reasons why Broadnax started the petition.

Making it clear that she has no issues with Berry as an actress, Broadnax said that having a conversation about Nyong’o being Storm some day can continue the wave of appreciation that the mainstream world has shown for the actress’s beauty — even if no one discusses her dark skin.

“One of the things that’s sort of the elephant in the room that people don’t really want to bring up, but I don’t mind bringing it up is that there’s just a lot of mainstream roles that seem to be given to Black actresses who are lighter-skinned,” Broadnax told NewsOne. “And this is coming from someone who is light-skinned herself, but it’s very frustrating for me to see images of only light-skinned women depicted in roles where clearly it would be better for a darker-skinned actress — Storm being one of them.

And also with the recent controversy with Zoe Saldana playing the role of Nina Simone. So in addition to sharing the same lineage and her having the acting chops and the accent, just on appearances alone she would be an excellent fit.”

(Berry, however, is slated to play storm in the upcoming film “X-Men: Days Of Future Past”)

Watch Lupita Nyong’o talk about her dark skin here:


Nyong’o’s rise, coupled with her impeccable style and flawless velvety skintone, reveals how important Hollywood representations of beauty truly are. While her Oscar award-winning performance won the critical acclaim of film critics, her red carpet appearances at various awards shows captured the hearts of many Black women.

That Nyong’o’s distinctly African phenotypic features have been idolized by millions of fans on such an international stage is certainly something that has evoked a sense of pride among many dark-skinned Black women who feel their type of beauty has been ignored in favor of lighter-skinned sistahs.

Yaba Blay, co-Director of Africana Studies at Drexel University, is one of them. Blay is participating in a Twitter campaign, #LupitaForMAC, with other like-minded Black women that’s asking MACcosmetics to create a line of products for Nyong’o. She told NewsOne that she hopes the campaign will help keep Nyong’o in the spotlight, and hopefully, land her a contract.

“It’s not easy being a dark-skinned woman in this society, and it’s not easy being a dark-skinned woman within the beauty industry,” she said. “There are a lot of compromises that I have had to make throughout my adult life in terms of how to manage my aesthetics. So I just can’t walk in to your average make-up counter and get my color instantaneously. I definitely can’t get my color out of a Target and I wouldn’t even try.

“I’ve had make-up artists have to blend three and four colors to get the right shade without making me look ashy. So if Lupita were to get the same type of million-dollar contract that RiRi got — because all of Rihanna‘s lines with MAC sold out — and leverage this fanfare and the affirmation of her beauty, I think for a lot of women, not only in the States but all over the world, would know the beauty industry was actually creating colors for our skin color.”

Why Lupita?

To be sure, Lupita certainly isn’t the first dark-skinned Black woman whose performance in a motion picture earned the coveted golden trophy. Hattie McDaniel was the first Black woman to win an Oscar, but her very dark-skinned tone and full-bodied physique relegated her to “the help” in most roles she played. Then there’s Whoopi Goldberg, a Hollywood pioneer in her own right, but was never noted in the mainstream for her looks. Cicely Tyson, even during her younger days, doesn’t appear to have been the fodder of beauty conversations on a national level either. Even if you consider Regina King or Gabrielle Union – both of whom are established actresses known for their beauty — neither has gained the same national traction over their looks as the “12 Years A Slave” star.

So what’s so unique about Nyong’o?

Tanisha Ford, assistant professor of Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, told NewsOne that part of the mainstream’s fixation on the actress’s looks is more about her physical appearance than her skin color.

Alek Wek Lupita Nyong'o

Prof. Tanisha Ford says it took some convincing to get the mainstream to see Alek Wek as beautiful, but very little was needed in the case of Lupita Nyong’o. (Photo/AP)


“She, in many ways, fits a normative beauty image,” she said. “Even though she has dark skin, she has short, natural hair. There is also a way in which she has thinner features. She is very thin, so she comes as the perfect model for all of these high-end fashion designers. So, because she fits this more normative mode, White folks can imagine her moving through spaces in ways that other Academy Award winners like, Monique, for example, couldn’t.”

Ford gave the example of Alek Wek, the Sudanese model, “who people had to be convinced was beautiful as oppose to Lupita. We’re looking at her saying, ‘Oh, of course she’s beautiful.’”

While Nyong’o’s physique may inoculate her from the prejudices that other dark-skinned actresses experience, American society does show clear preferences for light-skinned women. A Harvard study reports that light-skinned politicians stand a better chance of winning elected office than dark-skinned candidates. And a Villanova University study reports that light-skinned Black women receive shorter sentences than dark-skinned women.

So it is not a stretch to suggest that the fascination with Nyong’o may also be fueled by the same colorism prejudices that plague the rest of American society.

Is Mainstream Affirmation Of Black Beauty Really That Important?

Nyong’o’s fame and national exposure are well-deserved; however, is it unfortunate that it takes mainstream success for many Black people to feel so unusually overjoyed by her success? Why is it important for companies like MAC to recognize Nyong’o? Blay says she understands why some Blacks are reluctant to focus on White companies to lead the charge for celebrating Nyong’o’s beauty, but part of why she supports the MAC campaign is because it ensures that Black women of all shades are treated equally on the global stage.

“We want Lupita to get that same kind of bank that Rihanna got,” she said. “We want her to get that same kind of affirmation of who she is and her beauty to the extent that MAC reached out to Rihanna, like they reached out to Lil Kim, like they reached out to Mary J. [Blige] in years past. If Lupita is the “it” girl, we want to see this sustainable over time.”

Exact numbers on how much Rihanna has cashed in on her deal with MAC are not available, but the deal was expected to bring in some $15 million at retail globally when it was signed in February of 2013. And Nicki Minaj‘s line of MAC Viva Glam lipstick became the brand’s best-selling lipstick ever, so Blay’s championing of the inclusion of all Black women is well-warranted.

The subject of how important mainstream recognition is has never evaded Nyong’o. During her acceptance speech for “Best Breakthrough Performance” at ESSENCE’s “Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon” in February, she read part of a letter from a young girl who wrote that she was happy and shocked that she could receive the attention she is getting while being “that Black.” The little girl told Nyong’o that she was about to buy skin lightening cream before she “arrived on the world map and saved her.” It was a letter that resonated with her own sojourn to loving her own skin:

I remember a time when I too felt unbeautiful. I put on the TV and only saw pale skin. I got teased and taunted about my night-shaded skin. And my one prayer to God, the miracle worker, was that I would wake up lighter-skinned. The morning would come and I would be so excited about seeing my new skin that I would refuse to look down at myself until I was in front of a mirror because I wanted to see my fair face first. And every day I experienced the same disappointment of being just as dark as I was the day before.

I tried to negotiate with God. I told him I would stop stealing sugar cubes at night if he gave me what I wanted, I would listen to my mother’s every word and never lose my school sweater again if he just made me a little lighter. But I guess God was unimpressed with my bargaining chips, because He never listened.

During her speech, Nyong’o said that, like the little girl, she eventually grew to love her skin when an African who looked like her began making waves on the international scene. She told the captivated audience that this “dark as night” model walked runways around the world and graced the pages and covers of the top magazines. There wasn’t anyone who wasn’t saying how beautiful she was, Nyong’o remembers. And when Oprah called her beautiful, that convinced her that it was a fact.

“I couldn’t believe that people were embracing a woman who looked so much like me as beautiful,” she continued. “My complexion had always been an obstacle to overcome, and all of a sudden, Oprah was telling me it wasn’t. It was perplexing and I wanted to reject it because I had begun to enjoy the seduction of inadequacy.”

A flower, she says, bloomed inside of her, when she saw this model. “I inadvertently saw a reflection of myself that I could not deny,” she said.

That model Nyong’o was talking about is Alek Wek.

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Originally seen on http://newsone.com/

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