There was one word I kept coming back to while reading Lupita Nyong’o’s stirring feature in The Hollywood Reporter and that word was “necessary.” Her story, her words and her presence are so vital, so NECESSARY, that I think this feature should be required reading for everyone in her industry – heck, for anyone in the entire United States of America, and the world! I don’t think my hyperbole is excessive here. The quality and merit of African countries have ignorantly come into question lately and Lupita Nyong’o continues to – even though she shouldn’t have to – provide a glimpse into the life of an African woman that the world doesn’t typically get to see.
I’ve used this description before when writing about Lupita but she is the exception, not the rule. She is a dark-skinned black woman who has, as THR puts it, “an Academy Award, beauty megadeals and two Disney franchises.” The only other actress I can think of with an Oscar, multiple endorsements and TWO big franchises is Jennifer Lawrence. If we’re looking at precedent in Hollywood, Lupita Nyong’o shouldn’t exist. Women who look like her haven’t been allowed to exist in this way in that space until now. Lupita has accomplished all that she has while overcoming impossible odds. I’ve read almost every feature written on Lupita Nyong’o in the past four years. I feel like I know her way better than anyone who has never met her should and yet, I didn’t know the incredible story of her father’s political exile and some of the painful details of her childhood. I didn’t know that after college, she left New York to go back to Kenya.
“And so I decided: You know what? I need to go back home, where I have my community, I have a roof over my head, I have my parents, and figure out what my next chapter is."
That quote might seem innocuous to some but to me, it’s so relatable and universal and she’s talking about her home in Kenya, a supposed “sh-thole”. I keep driving home the same point because people are still ignorant as f-ck about the continent of Africa, the same place half of my family calls home. Just look at the comments of this THR piece. An African experience can be universal and relatable. I just want to scream that in all caps until people start to hear it.
The other ridiculously relatable thing Lupita says that instantly made me emotional was this:
"There is a part of me that will always feel unattractive."
I don’t like speaking on behalf of all black women because we are all different, unique and complex but if there’s one thing that binds us, it’s that we grow up with popular culture that rarely tells us we’re beautiful or desired – especially if your skin is darker than Beyonce’s or Tyra Banks’ or Halle Berry’s or Zendaya’s or Yara Shahidi’s, I could go on. Like Lupita, there will always be a part of me that feels unattractive. But like Lupita, I’m OK with that.
As to her lingering doubts about her appearance: "That's OK," she says, with a sly smile, "because it will keep me grounded. I don't need to be so full of myself that I feel I am without flaw. I can feel beautiful and imperfect at the same time. I have a healthy relationship with my aesthetic insecurities."
But seriously, she’s perfect. Lupita Nyong’o knows she is the exception which is why she is using her position to empower the next generation. So maybe, their insecurities will be a little less engrained and a little less tied to their skin colour. Lupita is writing a children’s book. For the second time reading this THR piece, I teared up. This synopsis!
"Sulwe is a young Kenyan girl who, though her name means star [in Luo], her skin is the color of midnight… And she's uncomfortable because she's the darkest in her family and goes about trying to change that, then she has this adventure that leads her to accept herself."
Whew. Look at Lupita, doing the lord’s work. I am SO excited for this.
Most of the headlines about this THR piece mention Lupita’s comments on Harvey Weinstein. She simply says this about why she wrote her powerful New York Times op-ed.
"That was just what I felt I needed to do, quite viscerally. I couldn't sleep. I needed to get it out."
She needed to get it out and the industry needed to hear that sexual harassment doesn’t only affect white women. Lupita’s account was necessary. Again, I’m back to that word.
I am aware that it has taken me over 750 words to mention BLACK PANTHER. You know it’s a good feature when. Lupita doesn’t give away anything about Wakanda we didn’t already know but she does sum up its importance pretty damn perfectly.
"We were creating an aspirational world where an African people are in charge of their own destiny. And that really appealed to me and had the little girl inside me jumping for joy. To just have African people, black people, at the center of that narrative is so exciting."
As much as I am obsessed with everything Lupita says in this piece, I’m also consumed by the styling of the accompanying photoshoot. The burnt orange co-ord she’s wearing on the cover is giving me life. Yesterday, I stared at this cover for my entire commute. F-ck this world for ever giving this woman the idea that she wasn’t f-cking flawless.
You can see more of Lupita being flawless and adorable in THR’s Fishing for Answers video series below.