Lupita Nyong'o and Trevor Noah Revealed the Gatekeepers Maintaining Hollywood's Racist Status Quo

Illustration for article titled Lupita Nyong'o and Trevor Noah Revealed the Gatekeepers Maintaining Hollywood's Racist Status Quo

Lupita Nyong’o and Trevor Noah met up for a real casual brunch with a real casual Philip Galanes and real casually dropped poignant observations about the entertainment industry, race, and gender all over the place.


The New York Times’ interview published Saturday between Nyong’o and Noah touches on the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, and traces their personal success back to their childhoods in Africa. Nyong’o won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in 2014 for 12 Years A Slave. She talks about how prestige pictures generally sweep the Academy Awards, and what kind of roles that means for actors of color:

Lupita Nyong’o: In a film like “12 Years a Slave,” race is of the utmost importance. But there are stories outside the race narrative that everyone can participate in. But we don’t. It’s about expanding our imagination about who can play the starry-eyed one.

TN: Exactly!

LN: We also have to ask ourselves what merits Oscar prestige. Often, they’re period stories. And for people of color, they end up being about slavery or civil rights. A blockbuster won’t do it. Do I have to be in a big Elizabethan gown?

Trevor Noah explains the difficulty of diversifying the writer’s room at The Daily Show after stepping into Jon Stewart’s shoes:

PG: If you say so. This reminds me of the contretemps at “The Daily Show” before Jon Stewart left — about the lack of diversity on the writing staff. Have you been working on that?

TN: When it comes to diversifying, I had never realized how ingrained people’s mentality can be. It’s not even conscious. When I was looking for new people to try on the show, the network sent out all their tentacles. And people sent in audition tapes. And 95 percent of them were white and male. I was like: Does nobody else want to be a part of this show? Does nobody else even want a job?

PG: What did you do?

TN: I said, “I want more diversity.” And they said, “But this is what we’re getting.” So I said, “Then I will go out and look for it in the street.”

LN: However they were reaching out was not reaching into diverse communities.

TN: So I went to all the young comedians I knew — black, Hispanic, female, whatever — and I said, “Are you interested?” And they all said: “Are you crazy? Of course, I’m interested.” So I asked, “Why didn’t you audition?” And they said, “We didn’t know about it.” But they told me they’d sent it out to all the agents and managers. And they all went: “Oh, that’s where you made the mistake. We can’t get agents or managers.” We can say we want diversity, but there’s this little roadblock that no one tells you about.

LN: The gatekeepers.

And both observe the difficulty of playing the game while also demanding change:

PG: The employer may not be racist, but the institution still is.

LN: We’re at this interesting moment when prejudice is in the subconscious a lot of the time. Where prejudice occurs before you’ve even had a conscious thought. The laws have changed, but now the battle is with the mind. And that’s much harder to get to.

TN: Especially when people feel attacked. People are always asking me, “Why aren’t you angry?” Because I grew up in a world where being an angry black person got you nowhere. It got you shot or arrested. There’s a place for anger, but you can get so much further with diplomacy and empathy. You have to feel for the other person, even if you think they’re completely wrong. And they think the same about you.

PG: But it seems unfair: being discriminated against and having to point it out gently.

TN: Freedom is hard work.

LN: And change only comes when the conversation is happening in all forms at all times. Not just one tactic is going to do it. It’s got to be a convergence.

The full interview is well worth reading here.

Images via Getty.

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I was walking down Vine in Hollywood, on my way to Trader Joe’s after a long sweaty day working at a DV shelter in the Valley. I had to wear a back brace because I have scoliosis that was never addressed because I only had insurance on and off as a child. I was painfully aware of how horrible I looked, in pain, stressed by working in DV: it was one of the lowest and hopeless days for me emotionally.

I walked by the Macau next to the Trader Joes’s on vine and there was a group waiting outside (patio type area), and one guy kept staring hard. All I could think was “Didn’t your mama tell you not to stare?”

I had to pass buy the Macau again to get back to the Metro, struggling with my backbrace and carrying groceries, and it was the same guy: Trevor Noah. (This was just before he started TDS I think he had a show at the Wiltern). He made a joke to his friends as a I passed by, and like a living cliche I wanted the Earth to eat me. Actually I wanted to scream “What the hell is wrong with you?” But I said, “no, not going to act the fool today.” I regret not acting the fool. Who makes fun someone’s struggle?

But you know what? I found myself watching the show and critqueing like someone in an abusive relationship who thinks they can help the abuser be a better person. He’s a bully who was probably bullied as a child, but we’re adults now, bro.

I didn’t mean to drag the tone of this article down, I just needed to get it off my chest.