I’m happy for Lupita Nyong’o.
As a Black woman I’m happy. As a mentor to young women in my community, I’m happy about what this moment will mean to how they see themselves. As a dark-skinned, short-haired woman from Africa, I’m especially happy.
But as a moviegoer, I’m anxious.
How will Hollywood treat my dear sister?
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Now that she’s an Oscar winner and a certifiable asset to Tinseltown, will her agent’s inbox be filled with scripts as diverse as the ones “America’s sweetheart,” and fellow Oscar winner, Jennifer Lawrence receives? Or will she be relegated to the roles Hollywood loves to dole out to Black women? You know, the wise domestic, the asexual ever-powerful detective, and my fave, the sassy Black girlfriend, who ultimately stays in the background.
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Granted, Nyong’o hasn’t gotten to show the diversity of her skills yet since 12 Years a Slave is only her first major role (she has a few lines in her latest film, Non-Stop). So, a better question might be, will Hollywood welcome her with arms as embracing as it does when a young, white actress, like Lawrence, bursts onto the scene?
There’s a reason Nyong’o is only the seventh Black woman to win an Academy Award in 86 years. Eighty. Six. If you recall, in those 86 years we’ve had phenomenal performances by Black women on screen. I won’t dare name the women I think deserved a golden statue—after all, the moviegoing experience is subjective—but there are the ones we can all agree deserved to go home Oscar winners, from Dorothy Dandridge in Carmen Jones to Angela Bassett in What’s Love Got To Do with It?. The dearth of roles Hollywood has given to Black women has been well-documented. And actresses like Bassett and Viola Davis have decried the trend.
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“We’re in crisis mode as black actresses,” Davis said during a recent episode of Oprah’s Next Chapter. “We’re in deprivation mode, because listen: me, Alfre (Woodard) and Phylicia (Rashad) … we’re in the same category. Whereas if you take a Caucasian actress, you have the ones who are the teens, in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, and they’re all different.”
I hope Lupita will get a full range of scripts that have her following in the footsteps of Viola Davis and Angela Bassett and yes, even her idol Cate Blanchett.
I hope she will learn from, but not suffer the same stagnation that Davis, Bassett and other Black actresses speak about.
I hope Hollywood will offer her a wealth of projects so rich that her filmography will be filled with as many challenging and diverse roles as any other bankable actress in Hollywood. After all, the only color Hollywood sees is green. And my dear sister is an asset.
I hope her “It” girl status will not be a momentary trend, but a lifelong celebration of her sheer brilliance in front of the camera.
“I want to be challenged and thrown out of my comfort zone,” the Oscar winner recently told ESSENCE.com. “I’m looking for a varied experienced.”
We don’t know her range just yet, but wow, if Patsey in 12 Years a Slave is anything to go by, the future is bright for Lupita.
Then again we said the same at various points throughout the years.
The challenge is for us to keep watching. Here’s to believing things will be different this time around.
Yolanda Sangweni (@yolizama) is the entertainment editor of ESSENCE.com.