Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Is Black "the new black"?

The name Lupita Nyong'o is on everyone's lips right now and rightfully so.  I have only seen short clips of the critically lauded film she has recently starred in, "12 Years a Slave", but her performance seems worth talking about.  
She actually first caught my attention as one of the faces of the SS14 Miu Miu campaign – I had no idea who she was and after a bit of research was thrilled to find out that not only is she exceptionally beautiful, but is also an extremely talented actress who is making it in mainstream Hollywood, and as if on cue, my inner-cynic surfaced as I questioned whether, that is in fact the case. 

As a fellow cocoa coloured nappy haired girl myself I wonder if someone who looks like her will forever be relegated to playing the role of the "slave girl" or at best, the exotic over-sexed Bond villain ala Grace Jones circa 1985.  This is such a 'tired' discussion that has been had by so many before me but what makes it relevant is that to this day, NOTHING has actually changed in terms of the images of beauty that exist in mainstream pop culture.  Are the consumers; you, me, our husbands, boyfriends etc, ready to shift our own perceptions of what a "leading lady" looks like & embrace a bald pitch black "Colombiana" or "Olivia Pope"?  Have we reached the stage where female musicians will no longer feel the need to don floor length blonde weaves/ wigs to make it to number 1.  It's so ridiculous when you look at it from the other side & try to imagine Katy Perry or Julia Roberts needing to wear an afro wig and get a nose job to make their noses flatter & wider to get a good role.  Have we, through actresses like Lupita Nyong'o, in some small way, traversed that mental prison cell?  

I'm reminded of an interview I once read where Bonnie Mbuli, a successful South African actress & personal friend, was interviewed about why she had returned to South Africa after trying her hand in Hollywood and she said, I paraphrase, that she was struggling to find roles that suited her chosen aesthetic & that to cut it in Hollywood she would effectively have to "sell out" to make it which, she wasn't willing to do.  Are the days of selling out done or is the rise of Lupita Nyong'o just indicative of the film industry's need to create another batch of "Colour Purple" actresses for this generation's "conscious films"?  
Honestly, it could be a bit of both… maybe, one day it's a black US president and the next day a short dark brown bald chick on the "Hollywood Highest Paid Actresses" list.  We live in hope.  

1 comment

  1. We live in hope indeed. Unfortunately I fear you are right. Hollywood doesn't have roles for women like her. Except for Tyler Perry's movies. Although I can see her in a show like Greys Anatomy without having to "sell out" Main stream Movies will be a bit more difficult. We'll have to keep on with this discussion until something changes.


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