When the very talented Jennifer Lawrence bursted on the scene, I was exhausted. She was on almost every talk show, was the subject of many articles, and her fashion sense, quirks, and gaffes were the subject of many memes and cultural impressions. She was the next “it” girl, the next American sweetheart that allegedly revolutionized our thoughts on body image and super stardom.
And I was tired of it all. JLaw is undoubtedly beautiful, and her acting skills are both impressive and noteworthy. For a 23 year old, she has made leaps and bounds in her career; winning a slew of highly regarded awards and starring in critically acclaimed films. She is one of the top paid actresses in the field, and is one of the most highly sought after talents in Hollywood.
She definitely deserves the accolades and attention that come her way, but the relentless marketing fatigued me. Her social narrative speaks to counterculture; she is pushed as a quirky rebel who disavows the size 0 standard Hollywood is notorious for. Her publicists and the media machines are telling us that she is someone we can relate to, and that’s why we should love her.
But I am tired of loving her, because I’ve loved her before. I’ve loved the Charlize Therons, the Scarlett Johanssons, the Reese Witherspoons, the Jessica Biels, the Alicia Silverstones, the Miley Cyruses, the Lena Dunhams, the Sarah Jessica Parkers, the Anne Hathaways, etcetcetcetc.
I’ve loved the phantasmagoria of white actresses that are unabashedly and unapologetically pushed in front of me. I am not discrediting their talents, and I am not suggesting that they don’t deserve their recognitions. But I will say that these actresses, and the hundreds more that came before and will come after, are constantly put before our cultural consciousness as desirable markers of beauty.
Like many dark skinned Black girls before me, I questioned my own beauty. I impugned my appearance as a swath of unacknowledged otherness. My icons did not look like me, so subconsciously, I believed that success did not equate to my features. Thank goodness I gained a strong buttress of self esteem. Who knows where I’d be if I still thought this way. Maybe I’d be skin bleaching or dying my hair platinum blonde.
Following my personal reflection, I distanced myself from entertainment media. Although I respected great talent, I did not over-indulge in the latest gossip news, or in-styles, blahblahblah.
And then came Lupita Nyong’o, the one mainstream actress that really does represent me.
Last night, I was looking at my timeline, and I came across an unfortunate post.
I was going to reply about how important Lupita is to pop culture and social legacies, but the proceeding comments grew exponential in their ignorance. I won’t dare reference them.
Lupita is a gorgeous Black woman who is currently revolutionizing mainstream standards of beauty in more concrete ways than, say… Jennifer Lawrence’s pronouncements in body image. (I could argue that JLaw’s body image cause is more of a marketing ploy than it is philosophical insight, but whatever…. I don’t care enough.) But Lupita is, without pause, a courageous standard in what it means to be beautiful and successful in Hollywood. Lupita gives girls like me hope, that, one day, global society will expand antiquated views about the intricate and subjective nature of beauty, self-image, colorism, and the like. For every one Lupita, there are a dozen JLaw’s, so why should we discredit or attack people who dare to equalize the social playing field?
In media, Black women are portrayed terribly. We are welfare queens, home-wreckers, ignorant, uneducated. We are video hoes, golddigging sluts with no grasp on self respect and public decency. We berate each other. We attack each other. We fight.
We are savages meant to entertain civilized folks; folks who point and laugh at us as a means to validate their own social standing.
And then came, Lupita, a woman who worked for 10 years for the chance to dismantle our uneven and unnerving portrayals. A graduate of the Yale’s drama school, last night, she stood before an international audience of millions to deliver one of the most moving acceptance speeches of our generation.
Lupita should never leave our consciousness because she challenges white supremacy; a conceptual execution that disproportionally harms Black women. She is not alone in this challenge; the serene Phylicia Rashad taught us that Black women can be equal partners in a healthy marriage, while advancing in her esteemed legal profession, and raising her children.
However, there is a dearth of Phylicia Rashads. There is a dearth of Alfre Woodards, of Kimberly Elises, of Viola Davises, of Regina Kings, of Angela Bassetts …
Just recently did Kerry Washington achieve mainstream success with Scandal, despite decades of diligence.
Black women are underrepresented in Hollywood, and the entertainers that mostly make it, arguably are pushed to mainstream audiences because their proximity to whiteness. The Halle Berrys, the Beyonces, the Rhiannas, the Nicki Minajes. This isn’t to say that these women don’t deserve their success, but I do believe they are marketed more heavily because they are closer to whiteness than, say Viola Davis.
Even with Lupita, the media picked up on her because there was a demand for her. A demand most exacerbated by the Black community. We’ve been extremely supportive of Lupita, and the mainstream media machinery picked up on her. Throw in the fashion houses that, although the largest perpetrators of advancing white standards of beauty, recognized the unique and passionate glows of her large eyes, soft lips, and high cheekbones. And let’s not forget her richly compelling complexion that brings life to vibrant colors. Established media houses weren’t going to jump on Lupita until they saw how much the Black community loved her.
So this is why I say to those who wonder why we keep talking about Lupita….
We talk about her because finalllllllllly, we have a positive representation of the beauty of Black womanhood. Finallllllllly we have a hallmark in cultural legacy that we need not be ashamed of.
Finalllllllly we have an “it” girl.