Long before Steven McQueen unveiled Lupita Nyong’o in high definition, I yearned for her. Self-affirming visual representations of all our children engaging the world would help build their confidence to stake their piece of it. It is unfortunate that we depend on mainstream media to project that world.
I do swear and quarrel with newscasters and writers for coded words and negative slants, even joining ABC’s “Good Morning America” “Twitterverse” to record my critique. Breaking for a few weeks, I return, conflicted and torn, but still searching. To soothe my irate spirit, I ask, “Do we want to see our children on commercial television or in movies playing caricatured roles, validating goods and behaviors that, for the most part, do nothing to enhance our well-being?”
Throughout the years, I have known confident Lupitas—great actors all from various generations. Their absence was not that hard to discern. Contrary to what the mainstream media profiles as beauty, they were simply too dark. Just as assertive, camera-ready light-skinned African-descended girls came closest to having universal appeal where it mattered most—in the pockets of Hollywood and Madison Avenue media moguls and their bottom line. Even if they were part of a “diverse” repertoire, it was hardly likely that scenes would fade out with their images in focus. Light skinned yet still lacking universal appeal in this Eurocentric culture to leave a lasting impression.
Then along comes this vivacious, young, dark-skinned woman with two birthrights making her grand entrance at this year’s Oscars via the movie “12 Years a Slave.” Born in Mexico of Kenyan professionals and raised in Kenya, she is Kenya’s princess—not a Disney Princess. Stepping up to the mike as she walked the red carpets leading up to the coveted stage, she created a buzz. “Lupita, Lupita.” A media handler’s dream; no need for training or controlling this woman. She had this.
Quietly I looked on, elated by Nyong’o’s poise and consciousness. It was quite apparent (and refreshingly so) that this young woman was not taken in by the glitz and the glamour. This time around, the glitz and the glamour were taken in by her. With an aesthetic African presence, Nyong’o is a Luo woman. The Luo people are in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Sudan, Congo and Ethiopia. Already an acclaimed young film and music director in Kenya, hers was the voice that made it to the platform. Each time she got up to speak, the Kenyan princess gave words to the unspoken doubts of the hopeful evolving/evolved Lupitas amongst us and in us. But I am yet to sing full-throated in this celebration.
Not to deny the sister (and us) this transient joy. I am wary. With such a pedigree, excitedly different and unusual, if Hollywood has anything more to do with Nyong’o, she will soon become its flavor of the month, “ebony exotica” or something like that. She is just as multidimensional as the other Black women who have graced the silver screen before her and as young as they were when they first appeared. But soon her roles will fade to black. Ask Angela Bassett, relegated to infrequent roles in an ensemble cast without a chance of a script for a leading lady.
She is presently appearing in the French-American mystery thriller “Non-Stop,” which premiered in Paris in January of this year. There is a hum online. Also, she is set to appear in Star Wars as part of Obi-Wan Kenobi’s lineage and in Warner Bro’s “Tiger Lily” opposite Daniel Craig in a courtroom drama. More buzz.
Our children will have the opportunity to acquaint themselves with her for a while. But just as the honeybees are disappearing, this buzz will also disappear soon after she is demoted from her pedestal. There is no mystery why Nyong’o will lack the privilege or the staying power of a Jolie, Roberts, Bullock, Johansson, Dench or Streep.
Oops! But if she plays her cards right, there is Lanvin, Chanel, Givenchy, et al. Cha-ching cha-ching! Nyong’o is an exquisite canvas for cosmetics and fashion houses. She has already adorned magazines in London and New York. Each color she wears exudes. That’s to be expected. She is the original color.
A lucrative fashion commodity future, over time, she will increase in value. Sell their wares she will. Jet-setting from Italy to Paris! Fashion Week, front row, sitting with Anna Wintour! Among my sister friends, we do not want Nyong’o to become a consumable, but she’s got the goods to sell their goods. (And we’re not overlooking the fact that Mattel is unlikely to pass up the opportunity to manufacture a Nyong’o doll.)