Keke Palmer is hot off a very entertaining press tour for her latest film, Jordan Peele’s Nope, and is shutting down anyone trying to analyze or take away from her decades of success.
Over the weekend, a tweet that comparing Zendaya and Keke Palmer’s careers went viral. “I’d like someone to do a deep-drive on the similarities and differences between Keke Palmer and Zendaya’s careers. This may be one of the clearest examples of how colorism plays out in Hollywood,” the thread began. “They were both child-stars, but their mainstream popularity is very different.”
While the user clearly believes that colorism has held back Palmer in her career, the Akeelah and the Bee star had a different idea of how she’s actually affected by colorism. “A great example of colorism is to believe I can be compared to anyone,” Palmer tweeted in response. “I’m the youngest talk show host ever. The first Black woman to star in her own show on Nickelodeon, & the youngest & first Black Cinderella on broadway. I’m an incomparable talent. Baby, THIS, is Keke Palmer.”
She said that!
While Zendaya hasn’t commented or released a statement about the viral thread, she has addressed colorism in Hollywood in past interviews. In 2020, Zendaya spoke at BeautyCon, saying, “I am Hollywood’s acceptable version of a Black girl and that has to change. We’re vastly too beautiful and too interesting for me to be the only representation of that.”
For those new to the colorism conversation, Jezebel’s Zeba Blay explained it well:
Do people in Hollywood know colorism is a thing? That it is, in fact, the thing people should be talking about when they talk about racial inclusion, particularly for Black people? Race is a construct, yes, but it’s also true that that construct is based almost entirely on skin tone, hair texture, and features. The thing about colorism—the trick of it, really—is that it is the water in which all Black people swim, but only the people who are directly affected by it seem concerned with talking about it. This is by design: Colorism and racism are essentially different sides of the same coin.
The colorism conversation, especially as it pertains to Black women, often revolves around desirability. And while the association of light-skinned blackness with romantic desirability is certainly a problem, it’s just the tip of the iceberg. The reality is that colorism and featurism are deciding factors in every facet of life. And if the conversation were to move past desirability, certain other truths about colorism would have to be acknowledged.
Research shows that dark-skinned Black girls are three times as likely to be suspended from school than light-skinned Black girls. Dark-skinned Black women earn up to 25 percent less money than lighter-skinned women across the world. Dark-skinned Black women are more likely to receive longer and harsher prison sentences; they are more likely to be perceived as dangerous, or aggressive. They are more likely to be victims of police brutality and intimate partner violence. And so on, and so on.
As a darker-skinned Black woman, I’m sensitive to the damaging effects of colorism and I can see and relate to both sides of this conversation. When the tweets pitting Palmer against Zendaya went viral, I initially agreed (based on my own personal experiences) with the argument that Palmer’s alleged lack of mainstream success is due to colorism. It’s hard not to notice how favoritism has historically thrived in Hollywood—and how it’s elevated the careers of lighter-skinned actresses above Black actresses who look more “Black.”
The user also emphasized how critics, fans, Hollywood, social media, etc., etc appear to be treating Palmer’s starring role in Nope as her first and only starring role. “Keke Palmer has done sooo much throughout her career, yet ppl are saying #NopeMovie is her breakout role,” the thread continued. In a subsequent tweet, the user reiterated that “I’m not slighting either woman. I’m literally a fan of both of them. It’s just weird that ppl are acting like this is a breakout role for Keke, who is VERY successful.”
Palmer has undoubtedly always been in a league of her own. From her early days as a talented child star in movies like Barbershop 2: Back in Business, to landing the leading role in Nickelodeon’s True Jackson, VP, she’s proven herself to be anything but a one-hit-wonder. We could easily list all her accolades, but Palmer already shut down anyone who might still be confused about her resume.
“I’ve been a leading lady since I was 11 years old,” she wrote. “I have over 100+ credits, and currently starring in an original screenplay that’s the number one film at the box office #NOPE. I’ve had a blessed career thus far, I couldn’t ask for more but God continues to surprise me.”
So don’t call Palmer a victim of anything—except maybe the wild circumstances her character faces in Nope. She’s “an incompaarable talent.” Period.