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Oscar Winner Lupita Nyong'o Poignantly Discusses "Black Beauty" at Essence Event

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by Inkoo Kang
March 4, 2014 3:35 PM
1 Comment
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Lupita Nyong'o in Essence's March 2014 Issue

Since Thanksgiving last year, Lupita Nyong'o has run a stealth but undeniably successful campaign. No, not for her richly deserved Best Supporting Actress trophy for 12 Years a Slave, but it has all been about reminding everyone of the importance of diversity on screen. 


When Nyong'o capped her Oscar speech with the words "When I look down at this golden statue, may it remind me and every little child that no matter where you're from, your dreams are valid" on Sunday night, I couldn't help thinking back to the THR Actress roundtable she took part in last November. "When I was a little girl," she recalled, "the first time I thought I could be an actor was when I watched The Color Purple.

"I grew up in Kenya," she continued, "and a lot of our programming was from all over the world, and we didn't see ourselves onscreen. It was very rare that you'd see people that look like me. And [then] there was Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah."


At an Essence event this past weekend, 
Nyong'o revealed that her recent success has given her the opportunity to pay that support forward. On the podium, she read part of a fan letter she received: "Dear Lupita... I think you're really lucky to be this Black but yet this successful in Hollywood overnight. I was just about to buy Dencia's Whitenicious cream to lighten my skin when you appeared on the world map and saved me."

Nyong'o then shared some anecdotes from her own childhood and adolescence, in particular how seeing model Alek Wek's beauty celebrated in the media helped her embrace her own complexion: 

A celebrated model, [Wek] was dark as night, [and] she was on all of the runways and in every magazine and everyone was talking about how beautiful she was. Even Oprah called her beautiful -- and that made it a fact. I couldn't believe that people were embracing a woman who looked so much like me as beautiful. My complexion had always been an obstacle to overcome and all of a sudden, Oprah was telling me it wasn't. It was perplexing and I wanted to reject it because I had begun to enjoy the seduction of inadequacy. But a flower couldn't help but bloom inside of me. When I saw Alek I inadvertently saw a reflection of myself that I could not deny. Now, I had a spring in my step because I felt more seen, more appreciated by the faraway gatekeepers of beauty.

But Nyong'o doesn't just want girls to focus on beauty: 

I hope that my presence on your screens and in the magazines may lead you, young girl, on a similar journey. That you will feel the validation of your external beauty but also get to the deeper business of being beautiful inside. There is no shade to that beauty.

This my friends, is the power of Hollywood.

Watch her touching speech below or read the transcript at Essence:


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More: Lupita Nyong'o, Diversity, Oprah Winfrey

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1 Comment

  • anon | March 5, 2014 4:54 AMReply

    wow she seems so poised and together like she has always been confident but i guess growing up in mexico she was definitely the odd one out i'm glad now SHE is the one inspiring young black girls she is incredible!

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