Congrats to Lupita Nyong’o for becoming Lancôme’s first Black spokesperson. The world should celebrate black beauty. It is as common as any other kind, after all. And congrats to Lupita for riding a very elegant magic carpet of success all the way to the top.
I’m not sure there was an award she qualified for that she didn’t win this past award season. And damn did she look good every single time anyone saw her! Lord have mercy she was fabulous! Not because she was runway ready but because she owned every scrap of fabric that graced her body. She was proud. She was different, and she quite obviously could care less. Every graceful line of her body seemed to wink and say, yeah, I know. She looked in the face of traditional definitions of beauty and had a big ole belly laughter, and seemingly everyone – certainly every big name in Hollywood who rushed to shake her hand and offer congratulations – laughed right along with her.
But did it occur to anyone else that she, and Halle Berry before her, were essentially rewarded for playing the lowest, most degraded and humiliated characters it’s possible for a Black woman to play?
Please don’t misunderstand. I am absolutely not saying that her performance wasn’t Oscar worthy. I can’t say that even if I wanted to. I haven’t seen – and have no desire to see – the movie. I’ve said many times before, I’ve seen enough hardship and horror etched into Black faces and strapped like bales of hay to our bowed and nearly broken backs. I’m not going to pay money to see it on the big screen – no matter how wonderful the acting, direction or the screenplay – and I follow all of the major actors in 12 Years, including Michael Fassbender and Chiwetel Ejiofor. I acknowledge that I could be missing out on cinematic excellence, but it’s a personal choice, and I stand on it. Even writing a sentence to describe a scenario where a black person has his freedom ripped away only to be dropped into a specially formulated kind of hell makes me shiver.
What I would love, is if a beautiful Black woman could win something for playing a character who is triumphant, not someone who suffered horribly but survived. Let’s celebrate a complex black female character who is celebrated for her beauty alone not just for her helpless and forced sexual availability. Let’s rush to praise a black woman for her strength not because she was forced to endure against hardship, but because she used that strength to do more for herself and others than survive and retain an injured if indelible dignity.
We need more Olivia Pope’s. Kerry Washington was rewarded for playing the type of character I just described. I’d add Gabrielle Union’s character on Being Mary Jane into that right column, if we were tallying positive and negative characterizations, which I realize is a simplification. Let’s at least tip the scales in the opposite direction, you know? Black women are complex and beautiful and deserving of celebration for good and for bad.