The figurative ink on Lupita Nyong'o's new Lancôme contract is not even dry, but there's already the scent of backlash in the air. It's hard to think of anyone who could actually dislike the 12 Years a Slave actress (the closest one can come would be "cautiously appreciative"), let alone despise her.
Enter Dencia, Nigerian-Cameroonian pop star and purveyor of the skin-whitening cream Whitenicious. Already a huge proponent of skin bleaching and whitening to the point of borderline delusion about the health risks of bleaching, Dencia has repeatedly criticized Nyong'o and her popularity, particularly regarding black beauty. When Nyong'o gave her impassioned speech about beauty and dark skin, she mentioned receiving a letter from a dark-skinned girl who, inspired by Nyong'o learned to value her own skin, choosing not to use Dencia's Whitenicious product to lighten her skin. Apparently to Dencia, that meant shots fired, and she took to social media to vent.
& oh @Lupita_Nyongo cln't talk abt the bleaching creams white people (Companies) make cuz the white man pays her,they own her!!
— Dencia (@IamDencia) March 1, 2014
So naturally, Dencia, who has allowed herself to become a magnet for basically any bleaching and skin-whitening controversy for the express purpose of boosting her Whinenicious sales, was the target of a lot of Twitter hate when Nyong'o's Lancôme deal was announced. Of course, she fired right back:
— Dencia (@IamDencia) April 4, 2014
I can't believe I'm about to say this, but in this super specific situation, Dencia does address a glitch in the beauty industry. Dencia's delivery and general tone is that of self-important bullshit, but it is a bit odd that someone like Nyong'o who spoke so passionately about the importance of appreciating dark skin has signed with a company that—like every other cosmetic company—manufactures a skin-whitening cream.
However, by becoming the first black spokeswoman for Lancome, Nyong'o represents the movement towards inclusivity in beauty. And while it's unfortunate that it takes recognition by a huge beauty product company to legitimize a certain skin color, it is a huge statement and marks a moment of progress in the beauty industry. Whitening creams will not immediately get pulled from the shelves because a black woman signed a beauty contract. But the social and industry pressures that push people towards those products will subside because the face of Lancome beauty is a dark-skinned woman who knows the value of her skin color and treasures it.
Oh, and for the record Lupita has yet to respond to this hullaballoo. I don't know for sure, but I have a feeling that winning Oscars, being a champion for dark-skinned girls and women, booking photoshoots and contracts, and possibly getting tangled/lost in Jared Leto's hair could probably keep a woman pretty busy.