Sunday, March 2, 2014

If Lupita Nyong'o were LIGHT SKIN

The standard of beauty in America, has always been debated, fought against and scrutinized. Magazine covers have featured all races and sizes, but the prevalent recurring images of what is bankable, marketable and beautiful, tends to be a slender, White woman or fair skinned person of color.
Black women in America, have not often been celebrated. When a Black woman such as Lupita Nyong'o is intensely celebrated, for her craft and/or beauty, it is usually because of White and/or light skin guilt.

The Oscars are notorious for this. Throughout the years, Black women have only won and been nominated for Oscars because they have played the roles of victims. Halle Berry was victimized by White people and so was Viola Davis. Do I need to mention the others? Monique, Gabourey Sidibe and yes, Hattie McDaniel. The list continues a couple of names more but it is not long. The list of Black actresses who have been nominated and/or won Oscars is so short, that a pattern is sure to emerge. The pattern is that Black people win and get nominated for Oscars by being stereotypes and victims. Guilty White people celebrate them for being hopelessly Black and often exploit their performances of being victimized.
Lupita Nyong'o in 12 Years a Slave

This brings us to the Academy Awards of 2014.

Before anyone got dressed for the ceremony, buzz surrounded a beautiful, statuesque dark skin Kenyan, who wore elegant bright dresses. 12 Years a Slave was the big contender for the Oscars, having nominations in several categories. She was the depressed star of that film.

I couldn't help but be a little cynical about the whole Lupita craze. It seems that for the last decade, there is always ONE chosen Black woman who is nominated out of the sea of White women who don't need any more statues anyway.

Everyone would oooh and ahhh at how BEAUTIFUL and STUNNING this woman was at the award shows she attended. Don't get me wrong, she is GORGEOUS inside and out, but they praised her for her natural look and her dark skin as if she were something they've never seen before. They acted as if no beauty like hers ever graced the earth, sure, a beauty her color rarely walks the red carpet at the Oscars, but to patronize her with ridiculous glorification is telling. Black people spread her image around social media and treated her as if she were some kind of revolutionary, a new Angela Davis who would soon turn the tables. But what tables is she turning? It's not like she is the first brown skin woman with a natural to appear in a movie. What about Leslie Uggams in Roots, Grace Jones in Boomerang, Sophie Okonedo in Hotel Rwanda, or Whoopi Goldberg in Ghost? Oh, bad example, Whoopi was nominated for an Oscar for that role. But then again, she shucked and jived throughout the entire movie opposite sophisticated White people. And let's be honest, Whoopi is ugly as fuck, and it has nothing to do with her darker skin tone.

Would Lupita Nyong'o be as celebrated, if she were light skin with a natural? If she looked like, Solonge Knowles, would Black people put her as high on a pedestal as they have been doing?

You see Black people feel good about saying how beautiful a dark skin woman is, because after all, it makes them feel good about themselves. It is almost seen as blasphemy to speak highly of someone like the light skin Vanessa Williams (there is a dark skin one) while shrugging your shoulders at Lupita. Black people enjoy being victims, and they enjoy hating on light skin celebrities. They love to attribute the success of a light skin Black woman to her "watered down" Blackness, and most of the theories would be accurate, except for one thing;

Black people helped to create this standard of beauty.

And most of the time, light skin is more marketable, more mainstream, we know this. We understand the Beyonce over the Kelly and who has the same exact name but vastly different levels of success.

It is only when the mainstream, or White America, places a dark skin woman with a natural in the limelight, that Black people take notice. The establishment had to put Lupita in a wheelchair, disguised as a pedestal, dress her up in order for us to agree that she is beautiful. We didn't give this same attention to other dark beautiful people who have been in countless movies and have walked on countless runways.
Supermodel Alek Wek

We exaggerate Lupita's beauty and place her in a position of "revolutionary." After all, Lupita took the role of victim and ran with it. She went on a campaign at award shows and discussed the standard of beauty in Hollywood. She can't just be a talented actress who accepts awards as a talented actress. Behold, a dark skin African woman whose mission is to break down barriers and shut down notions of standards of beauty. Black people devour this because we want her to be a victim like us. She can't just be a beautiful woman. She has to have a purpose, she needs to have a cause. She has to carry the burden of being dark skin and she has to acknowledge it in interviews. Halle Berry, though brown skin, had a similar burden. She had to talk about the nameless Black faces. Berry won because of White guilt, Lupita, because of Black guilt, and there is a slight difference. We must exaggerate her beauty and act as if she is unique. We have to say, LOOK AT HER, shes got nappy hair and the White people are giving her awards for being a slave! We have finally made it. We didn't feel that Halle's award was legit because she was bare chested, half White and rode a White man's penis. But we do think that a dark skin Black woman who tells the slave master that she has picked enough cotton is not only worthy of an Oscar, but even MORE worthy. Even if the exploitative level of Black victimization is equivalent. Her award show tour de force, is more worthy because she is Black as night. She's the face of our ever belabored struggle, even though she probably doesn't have American slaves in her ancestry, but looks like our "BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL" propaganda posters.

12 Years a Slave director, Steve McQueen is Black, so is Cheryl Boone Isaacs, President of The Academy, but their hands only move for White people. We celebrate them as if they have taken off our shackles, meanwhile, Angela Bassett has never shopped for a dress. She played powerful roles without feeling bad about herself, roles that were just as dynamic as Meryl Streeps, but as a Black actress, burning cars isn't as Oscar worthy as picking cotton. I digress, but just a little.

Lupita's dark skin seems to be seen as a handicap. Don't get me wrong, darker skin doesn't have as many mainstream advantages as lighter skin in this country, but the way people have posted her up like Obama's rising sun of change, feels patronizing. Sort of like an amputee from the special olympics who dared to compete in the real olympics. We use her to represent us, even though she is not from the same continent we are from and her life experiences are vastly different than that of our own.
Sophie Okonedo from Hotel Rwanda, too light for sympathy

If she were light skin like Sophie Okonedo with a Nebraska accent, no one would give even a quiet damn. She would be a pretty face that Black people are afraid to take notice of and a talented Black actress that Hollywood couldn't make a statement out of.

She's a beautiful and talented woman. She went to Yale for God sakes, it's not like she's a random nobody who got a meal ticket. It is simply apparent to me that her dark skin, natural hair and birth certificate from an African nation, gives her a boost in visibility. They have attached a cause to her, they have given her a burden and she is capitalizing off of it. She is exploited for being the antithesis of beauty while being celebrated for her beauty.

Angelina and baby Lupita
When she won her Oscar for best supporting actresses, she made it a point to play the victim role again. "No matter where you are from, your dreams are valid." It was a very true statement as millions grow up in seemingly impossible conditions where there seems to be no way out. But that line had a purpose. As if there was a debate that anyone's dreams are not valid, she stood there and made it about being African, just like her award was about being a slave. Angelina Jolie looked up at her from the audience like a sympathetic humanitarian, just waiting to adopt her and give her a better life.

I've never seen White people applaud so vigorously before. The White guilt was pathetic. Where was applause like this for the other winners? I can't help but feel that every time a Black actor/actress gets an Oscar, the applause sounds like missionaries who just saved a Malaria victim.

It was refreshing that in the midst of the pity party disguised as a celebration for her, Lupita drew attention to the real historic figure, Patsey, of whom she played.

Dark skin with a burden of validating her skin tone
Lupita is an intelligent, well spoken, dynamic actress who deserves the best roles in Hollywood. However, they have already made her bed. WE have already made her bed. We have given her burdens and made her the poster girl for I'm unconventional and Black as ever, affirm me. You know, what India Airie was at the Grammy's those many years ago.

All I want to know is, when will a dark skin Black woman with a natural simply be another great actress, instead of a speech about the standards of beauty and 15 minutes of White applause?

When will her beauty be less surprising?
The compliments less patronizing?
The awards more diversified for roles more modernized?

When will she be a woman?

Instead of a campaign.

Are we trying to convince Whites, or ourselves? We should know this

Congrats Lupita! Keep your TALENT in the forefront


  1. Thanks for sharing your commentary Isayaah. You definitely put some thought into this one buddy. It got me to take a few minutes out of my morning to read. Pretty good points made.

  2. Ditto. After reading your commentary, I was compelled to respond and say thank you for such an in-depth observation. It definitely made me think and re-think somethings.