In a cover story for the October issue of Vogue, the ever-regal Lupita Nyong’o talks about breaking down beauty standards and the challenge that’s been foisted onto her as a dark-skinned woman in Hollywood.
For the interview, writer Elizabeth Rubin spent time with Lupita in her family’s village in Kenya as she awaits the release of her next film Queen of Katwe, the story of a young chess prodigy from Uganda. “There are certain cards that have been dealt me that I take on,” says Lupita. “I want to create opportunities for other people of color because I’m fortunate enough to have a platform to do that. That is why Eclipsed and even Queen of Katwe are so important, to change the narrative, offer a new lens on African identity.” Later she says, “Being able to use my platform to expand and diversify the African voice, I feel very passionate about that. It feels intentional, meaningful.”
Rubin also got a chance to speak to Lupita’s father Peter Anyang’ Nyong’o in Kenya about how Lupita always had a thing about her from very early on. In another part of the interview, Lupita addresses the assumption that her dark skin poses a challenge for her in Hollywood. Rubin cites a 2014 article in particular where a talent agent says, in reference to her career prospects, “In Lupita’s case I think she has two-and-half, three years.” Lupita responds in the Vogue story:
“I have to deafen my ears to that Christian lady,” she says, referring to the talent agent. “She is looking at me as part of the cultural tapestry.” She throws out her arms. “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.” She shakes her head. “I can’t think like that.”
There’s a silence. “I cannot run away from who I am and my complexion or the larger society and how they may view that. I realize that with what I shared at the Essence awards.”
She’s referring to her brilliant speech at the Essence Black Women in Hollywood luncheon in 2014, where she poetically laid out her personal experience with American beauty standards and gave props to model Alek Wek. In similar fashion, Lupita tells Vogue:
“The European sense of beauty affects us all,” she says abruptly. “I came home from college in the early two-thousands 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.”
“Alek Wek changed how dark people saw themselves. That I could do the same in a way for somebody somewhere is amazing,” Lupita says, bounding out of her chair, talking about the benefit of having visibility and influence. She is the first black woman, for example, to have landed a Lancôme contract. “There is no point in getting your picture taken if it doesn’t move somebody.” Her eyes widen. “Right?”
Read the rest of the story and see amazing video of Lupita in her family’s home here.