Lupita Nyong’o recently won the award that upholds standards of beauty, the US People magazine’s “most beautiful person”.
This is the same magazine that brings such enlightening articles as “Wiggly summer bums: Guess whose these are”. Nonetheless this is something to be lauded especially for an African woman. Personally as a continental girl child who has grown up with the idea that beauty is blonde hair, blue-eyed and size 7, I have given this a standing ovation. I have even gone as far as possibly subscribing to the magazine but stopped myself just in time.
She got onto the list because she won the Oscar, winning the Oscar itself was awesome but getting onto People’s “most beautiful list”, there is the real win.
All in all it is quite the coup considering the race politics in the US.
But on the same note we cannot forget the race politics that allowed her to win the award in the first place, politics that speak to how the black body is received within international spaces.
The playing out of prejudices within Hollywood is nothing new, just check out this Cracked.com article.
Lupita is part of a long line of black women who are nominated for Oscars (and other awards) and meet critical acclaim not necessarily because they had stellar performances (even though they were amazing) but because they played the “tortured black woman”. This is a thing that seems to be replacing the “sassy black female”.
Much as we all love Ms Nyong’o, we must ask if her performance was truly the most Oscar-worthy, or did it fill the niche of being exactly what she was meant to be while giving the space for the Oscars to be super “conscious” by saying: “We see and recognise the plight of the slaves and our shared history?”
And once Hollywood gets over her then what?
I am so proud of our sister (being Kenyan this is our Obama in 2014) but I will truly believe the love Hollywood has for her when they give her an Oscar for being something other than a slave, something stronger than a struggling woman.
The strange thing is that this award season was hailed by some movie critics to be an amazing year for black cinema with a whole host of thought-provoking and powerful films coming out around the same time. But none of them got an Oscar side eye let alone a nod.
Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom got some throw-away nomination for Bono as best song and Mandela had died. He died. What does a film need to do to get an Oscar around here? This came as a huge shock, even to people who did not like the film.
Possibly not enough slave violence I suspect. Too much, “rise of the coloured folk” for the Academy’s liking.
That it is the thing: the world will always love a good heap of subjugation and gratuitous violence when it comes to brown people. Slavery stories do it the best.
Let us rewind back to Django Unchained and Ms Kerry Washington. Think long and hard at that movie and with the parallels that can be drawn to Lupita’s performance. Tortured slave girl, spends majority of the film being physically abused while wanting only to escape the reality she is faced with. There is a great deal of crying, being a shrinking wall flower, heavy beatings and of course the customary near hysterical shrieking.
*Knock knock.* *Who’s there?* *Oscar committee*…
Halle Berry’s Oscar was also won for a black woman showing herself to be the battering ram of some white man with a masochistic complex.
It seems that increasingly the Academy gets off on the idea of a naked brown woman being the recipient of a good amount of gratuitous violence. This speaks to a very scary scenario of people sitting in dark basements surrounded by even darker thoughts watching those films that’s say “For Oscar Consideration Only”.
I will believe in the genuine nature of an Oscar win when a black woman wins for something other than being a slave or some other struggling character.
If a film about a Nubian queen comes out and the woman wins an Oscar, then catch me having an award show party. Maybe the only other option is to get our own local film making industries up and running to Academy standards. But after watching Blackberry Babes (a lovely Nigerian film that lasted four hours and centred on women owning blackberries) I shall keep my Oscar campaign going for the moment.
Obviously there is a more nuanced aspect to this with Jennifer Hudson winning the Oscar for her role in Dream Girls and Quvenzhane Wallis being nominated making her the Academy Awards youngest nominee.
Clearly there is room for much more but we must be careful we do not fall into the stereotyping with black women being good for a round of “violence, rape and beatings”. We spent too long running away from the sassy black best friend to get sucked into the slave stereotype.
For the love of God we must keep Tyler Perry out of the Oscars.
So we must remember that we are not slaves, be sure of that, let’s change the script for the next round of Oscars.
Image – AFP