We’re just over a month away from Emmy nominations which will be announced on July 28th. Lupita Nyong’o is eligible for the outstanding narration category for her work on Discovery’s Serengeti, a wildlife documentary series that she narrates along with John Boyega. Yesterday, Lupita did an interview on Variety Live! to talk about her work as part of the campaign to secure that nomination.
Although I could watch Lupita talk about working with John Boyega and connecting with the animal characters in the series all day, the best part of the interview is when the discussion turns towards representation and Black Lives Matter. And it starts because Serengeti’s executive producers and directors, Simon Fuller and John Downer, wanted Lupita to just be herself for the role. They even asked her to tap into her native Kenyan accent.
She says, “I hadn’t really heard of a nature documentary narrated by a woman. And I certainly had never heard of a nature documentary narrated by an African woman.” She goes on to say, “it was so nice to have someone embrace and encourage [my accent], because I never knew that I would start my career and that would be called for.” These kinds of documentaries are usually narrated by white British men. And it’s gotten to the point where asking an African woman with an African accent to narrate a documentary set in Africa is a novel decision.
If Lupita gets the nomination, she’ll be one of three black women to be nominated in the category. Ever! In reading that, I’m reminded of how many ways in which Black people are purposefully disadvantaged or looked past. Most of them are things we don’t even think of. Lupita says this herself:
“Before this opportunity was brought to me, it wasn’t even something I was thinking that maybe one day I’d want to do. It wasn’t in my frame of reference, because I think of that typical male white British voice as sort of the standard. I hadn’t even had a chance to even challenge that — I wasn’t thinking about it."
“I hadn’t even had a chance to even challenge that – I wasn’t thinking about it.” We’ve just now started talking about the visible instances of anti-Black racism, instances that Black people have been trying to tell us for centuries. What about the invisible racism? It’s the worst type because it hides beneath the surface. It’s so deeply engrained in our culture and society that so many people pretend that it doesn’t even exist. Which means it’s also the hardest to get rid of.
In the interview, Lupita talks about complacency, and how “it’s when people fall asleep” that things can become this bad. This week, while scrolling through my social media, I saw fewer Black Lives Matter posts. I’m no longer seeing as much coverage of the protestors on the news. And I’m a little worried for the same reason Lupita is. Silence, ignorance, and complacency are the pillars on which a racist society can be built.
It’s inspiring to watch people tear down the statues of racist, colonialist people. It is cathartic to see conversations about defunding the police happen internationally. It is imperative that justice is rightly served for the numerous Black men and women that have been murdered by the police. But if we want this type of change to last, we (non-Black people) need to put in the real work of listening, learning, and continuing to be allies to the Black community. It’s only when we’re able to look inward and question our own prejudices and anti-Black conditioning that we can start to dismantle the system that has harmed so many people for so long.
The interview ends with Lupita talking about her children’s book, Sulwe, which deals with colourism through the story of a young girl who wants to lighten her skin colour. As she talks, Lupita starts to get emotional, explaining how she initially felt powerless. In times like these, it’s hard not to feel the same way. However, it was through Sulwe that she realized her work could be the way in which she made an impact. “It’s not about doing everything at once. It’s not about doing the biggest thing. It’s about doing the thing you know how to do and doing it to the best of your ability.” That’s advice we can take as we look to continue the momentum of the past few weeks.