Award winning actress Lupita Nyong’o and The Daily Show host, Trevor Noah, joined Philip Galanes for a meal and conversation in New York Times column Table for Three. The two celebrities—both from African nations, both 32 years old, and both having accomplished great achievements in the entertainment industry—shed light on #OscarsSoWhite and the challenges of diversity.
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.
Trevor Noah: Exactly!
Lupita Nyong’o: 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?”
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While #OscarsSoWhite addressed the lack of diversity on-screen, finding diversity off-screen has also proved to be a challenge.
Trevor Noah: 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?”
In wanting more diversity, Noah had to search through alternative outlets to find it.
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Trevor Noah: 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 their 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 road block that no one tells you about.
LN: The gatekeepers.
The stars share insight on their childhoods under oppressive government and the life experiences that shaped their work today.
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The full interview can be read here.