Lupita Nyong’o Has The Best Response For Critics Of Her Dark Skin

Photo: Andrew H. Walker/Variety/REX/Shutterstock.
With her roles in Queen of Katwe, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Black Panther, and Americanah, Lupita Nyong'o is about to be on our screens a whole lot. It's looking like her 2014 Oscar for 12 Years a Slave is finally paying off. In her cover story for the October issue of Vogue, she gets to give a little clapback to the talent agent who said her dark skin would hold her back from this kind of post-Oscar success. "I have to deafen my ears to that Christian lady," Nyong'o said in the interview, referring to talent agent Tracy Christian. In a Hollywood Reporter story in March 2014, Christian said, "Would Beyoncé be who she is if she didn't look like she does? Being lighter-skinned, more people can look at her image and see themselves in her. In Lupita's case, I think she has two-and-half, three years. If she can find a franchise — a Star Wars or a Bourne Identity — a big crossover film, or if she's cast by a significant filmmaker, then she's golden, she'll have carved out a unique path for herself." Funny enough, she did land Star Wars, but that's not the point. "She is looking at me as part of the cultural tapestry," Nyong'o told Vogue. "I am living and breathing. That person is not considering what I had for breakfast, how that is sitting in my stomach, and why I didn’t do well with that audition. I can’t think like that."
Nevertheless, the actress realizes that by being part of that "cultural tapestry," she can also be a role model. "I cannot run away from who I am and my complexion or the larger society, and how they may view that," she told Vogue. "The European sense of beauty affects us all. I came home from college in the early 2000s and saw ads on TV with a girl who can’t get a job. She uses this product. She gets her skin lighter. She gets the job. The lording of lighter skin is a common thing growing up in Nairobi. Being called ‘black mamba.’ The slow burn of recognizing something else is better than you."
Nyong'o said the success of model Alek Wek opened the door for her, and she recently realized that she has done the same for others when a young actress told her, "I’ve never had so many people call me beautiful until you showed up. I get called to auditions I never would have been called to before. And I know it’s because you exist.” If that is the "unique path" talent agent Christian had in mind, well, then she was kind of right after all.

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