Lupita Nyong’o's impassioned speech at the annual Black Women of Hollywood luncheon has fired up the debate around diversity and the traditional image of beauty, reports Ayesha Muttucumaru
Have you ever woken up and wished that you had lighter skin? I’m not proud of it, but I’ll admit there was a point in time that I did, so hearing Lupita Nyong’o’s moving speech at the annual Black Women of Hollywood luncheon really struck a chord with me.
After receiving her award for Best Breakthrough Performance, Lupita delivered a poignant account of how she felt growing up as a girl with darker skin.
“I too remember a time when I would turn on the TV and only see pale skin. I got teased and taunted about my night shaded skin. And my one prayer to God, the miracle worker, was that I would wake up lighter-skinned. The morning would come and I would be so excited about seeing my new skin that I would refuse to look down at myself before I was in front of a mirror, because I wanted to see my fair face first. And every day I experienced just the same disappointment at being just as dark as I had been the day before.”
It was only when Lupita saw pictures of model Alek Wek that her perception of herself started to change. “I couldn’t believe that people were embracing a woman that looked so much like me as beautiful. Now I had a spring in my step because I felt more seen, more appreciated by the faraway gatekeepers of beauty.”
The world is more multicultural than it has ever been, so why is dark skin still depicted as the exception, rather than the norm in the media? According to model Jourdan Dunn, the responsibility lies with those at the top of the game. In this month’s issue of Miss Vogue, the Greenford-born beauty said, “I find it weird when agents say, ‘You’re the only black girl booked for the show. Isn’t it great?’ Why is that great? I don’t know why people applaud designers for having just one ethnic model. It’s not like only one type of woman loves fashion.”
This isn’t the first time that the outspoken model has spoken frankly about the prejudices of the fashion industry. Last year after being left out of the Dior line-up, she tweeted, “I’m normally cancelled because I’m ‘coloured’ so being cancelled because of my boobs is a minor : )”
She later explained her tweet to The Guardian’s The Fashion Magazine. “The people higher than me – the stylists, the designers, the casting directors – they’re the ones with the power to change this. There’s where the conversation needs to happen… at big dog level.”
With Oscar winners and supermodels alike weighing in on the conversation, it certainly seems to be headed in the right direction. On the other side of the coin, writer and comedian Mindy Kaling raised another interesting issue recently, during a promotional panel discussion at the South by Southwest festival for her show ‘The Mindy Project.’
When asked whether it was a conscious decision for Mindy to be the only female doctor and the only doctor of colour on the show, she responded, “I have four series regulars that are women on my show, and no one asks any of the shows I adore – and I won’t name them because they’re my friends – why no leads on their shows are women or of colour. I’m the one who gets lobbied about these things.”
She added, “I’m someone who’s writing a show and I want to use funny people. And it feels like it diminishes the incredibly funny women who do come on my show… I don’t know, it’s a little frustrating.”
I can definitely see her point too. It seems that a balance needs to be struck between a fair representation of all ethnicities on our movie screens, TV screens and runways and ensuring that it doesn’t feel like a box-checking exercise. Of course diversity is important, but diversity shouldn’t be included for diversity’s sake. That would do a greater disservice to the industry in the long run and take away from those who are truly deserving.
Whether we're talking about beauty, fashion or the entertainment industry, it seems celebrities are all feeling the pressure of diversity in different ways. With a new breed of influential movers and shakers creating a stir when it comes to how skin colour is depicted in the media, all in all it’s been an exciting few weeks. Lupita of course, puts it best:
“I hope that my presence on your screens and in 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 in that beauty.” Watch the full video here .