There's Something About Lupita
By TiffJ on March 27, 2014
While I understand Marc Lamont-Hill’s uneasiness about Nyong’o falling prey to the white gaze and how insidious the glare can be, I also found his ‘she’s a fetish’ comment problematic, as I do much of the commentary dissecting Lupita’s allure.
It falls within the same realm of judgment and derision that followed, during the emergence of Academy Award nominated actress Gabourey Sidibe, for not only having dark skin, but for being overweight and daring to be confident in her plus-size body. While Sidibe’s turn as an abused, marginalized teen mother and sexual assault survivor named Precious evoked a sense of uneasiness for a slew of understandable reasons (most of which revolve around director, Lee Daniels), some of the most scathing and nonsensical comments continue to come from the same folks who never expected Sidibe to continue working in Hollywood after Precious, and so will jeeringly call her 'Precious' as a way to strip her of her actual name and humanity as a black woman and working actress, because she doesn't look the part.
In a culture where dark-skinned black women, actresses, and entertainers are invisible or erased entirely, I'm flummoxed by people who claim not to ‘get the hype’ surrounding Lupita or why they’d want a woman, whose presence empowers a generation of young black girls having to navigate the politics of colorism, to fade into obscurity, because they're discomfited by her rise to stardom.
It’s troubling that Lupita’s popularity has become a political hot-button issue and that there only seems to be room for a very specific black female aesthetic… which rarely ever deviates from its usual formula of: equal measures of Paula Patton, Beyonce, and Rashida Jones... shake, bake, and repeat.
Also, I've got to side-eye multi-racial black actresses who reap the benefits of skin-privilege and are cast in roles as romantic leads or kick-ass action heroines, who continue to trivialize and deny the difficulties darker-skinned black actresses have with getting cast in sizable roles that aren't laden with black female pathology, or with just being conspicuous without being excoriated for it.
Viola Davis has spoken about the extra hurdles dark-skinned actresses have to overcome in order to be respected not just by the industry, but by the media and the black community. In the wake of news stories where little black girls are ostracized by school administrators for how they look and black female improv performers aren't deemed 'talented enough' to be played by actual black women, media representation matters; even actor, Denzel Washington reiterated this to his own daughter.
Seeing Viola Davis beaming on the red carpet at the 2012 Oscars in her emerald green Vera Wang gown, where she also debuted her natural hair, matters. Danai Gurira's potrayal of Michonne in The Walking Dead (especially now that the character is fleshed out) matters.
Seeing Lupita spinning on the red carpet in her ‘Nairobi blue’ Prada dress and gracing magazine covers, matters. So to disregard the work she’s done to reach this point in her career and reduce her moment to nothing more than her being ‘a fetish’ for white folks and an obsession for supposed ‘insecure dark-skinded’ black women, is disingenuous and willfully obtuse; particularly when actors like Idris Elba, Don Cheadle, and Kevin Hart get to enjoy mainstream success without there being some ulterior motive behind it. And it reinforces how much more unpacking there is to do in our community, of the images we place value on, and those many find polarizing and that elicit visceral reactions.
Lupita’s popularity may not matter to you, and that’s fine. But it doesn't nullify the impact she’s having on young black women and girls who find merit in seeing someone who looks like them, win at her craft.
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