Okay, affirming community. It has been a looooong time. Between crushing work schedules, mind-blowing senior care and life in general, I have neglected my musings and you. But I could not let this week pass before adding to the long list of accolades for Lupita Nyong’o, who graces the cover of People magazine’s Most Beautiful People issue. Not only was her performance in 12 Years a Slave riveting (when her character Patsey asks the Solomon Northrop character to drown her as an act of mercy to free her from her hell on earth I almost fled the theater). But she has added something that is so often missing from our culture: grace.
In multiple interviews with ignorant folk, Lovely Lupita took the high road, explaining patiently, yes, she did have a TV in Kenya (she’s the daughter of a professor, are you kidding me?), and yes she always speaks from the heart, although rather than writing speeches for her myriad awards she would simply write out points she wanted to convey and meditate prior to each ceremony. I also loved the moment during the Oscars when surrounded by uptight, hungry and frozen-face celebrities, she leaped to her feet and danced with abandon with Pharrell as he sang “Happy.” Lovely Lupita doing it her way.
Although wowed by her radiant chocolate skin–the perfect palate to show off her gorgeous gown choices throughout an award season that was seemingly endless–shimmering natural hair and soft smile, she sealed her title as one of my favorite public women in the world with her speech at the Essence Women of Hollywood awards. Talking about her youthful self-consciousness about her dark skin, and discovering the Sudanese model Alek Wek on the Oprah show, a dark beauty like herself, she pointed out to the legions of young women who write her about the “seduction of inadequacy.”
In a post-slavery culture where the objects of beauty are so often light-skinned, Lovely Lupita is a breath of fresh air. A few weeks after she appeared at the Golden Globes in her red gown and cape by Ralph Lauren, I heard one off the brothers in my local barbershop exclaim, “She’s mad pretty.” Affirming community, guys in barbershops never think that chocolate girls are beautiful. Progress much? I think so.
I am reminded of attending a forum on film at the National Black Theater festival in Winston Salem more than 20 years ago. Bill Duke, who is Lupita dark, had recently premiered his film A Rage in Harlem. Actress Phyllis Yvonne Stickney, also a dark-skinned woman, related her multiple attempts to audition for the role of the femme fatale, wearing a wig to hide her gorgeous locks, because her hair “wasn’t right,” and so on. The part eventually went to a much lighter and coiffed Robin Givens. Bill Duke visibly squirmed in his seat as Phyllis related her hurt about this internal racism and self hatred, but had nothing to say. Shame on him.
Fast forward to today. My six-year-old godson, already on the fast track to success, has declared his adoration for Lupita, and decided to follow her example and attend Yale University when he grows up. Brains, beauty and grace. That’s why I admire Lovely Lupita. Yale graduate, Oscar winner, Lancome and Miu Miu spokesperson, human being extraordinaire.