March 3, 2014

The Fetishization of Lupita Nyong'o

Lupita Nyong'o won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress last night, for her powerful role in 12 Years a Slave, directed by Steve McQueen! Go Lupita! 

But lately I've been feeling a little fatigued by the "Oh-my-god-Lupita-Nyong'o-is-so-beautiful-I-can't-DEAL-WITH-IT!"

The current fad-like coverage of the Kenyan actress, overshadows the more interesting things about her background, the stuff that doesn't get reported. True, I assumed she was a nobody until this slave narrative film, but a quick skim of Wikipedia reveals the stuff that the media isn't all that interested in.

Black and white people, alike, are enamored with Nyong'o for what I believe, are different reasons. Blacks are proud that Nyong'o crushed it in her portrayal of Patsey and I'm personally excited that we've got another black woman winning major acting awards. Whites seems to be most preoccupied with Nyong'o's exotic look and I think that's something we, as a society, probably need to address.

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 For those who didn't know it, Lupita Nyong'o was born in Mexico City and hails from an affluent family of artists, doctors and scholars. She attended Hampshire College, here in the states, and graduated with a degree in film and theater studies. She's also a Yale graduate and a polyglot, fluent in several languages.

I was pretty excited to know that Nyong'o actually wrote, directed and produced a documentary, in 2009, called In My Genes, where she investigates the how Africans with albinism experiences life in a predominately black Kenya. I was stoked to know this because all I've seen of Lupita Nyong'o, is how beautiful she is on every red carpet she walks. Which is wonderful because Nyong'o is indeed quite beautiful! But she's also extremely talented in other, more important ways.

I'm also weirded out by the onslaught of white people who are just plain gob-smacked by her exquisiteness. I've received an enormous amount of trending Facebook articles from various fashion sources that seem almost amazed by how beautiful Lupita is. It irks me that people don't find it ironic how Nyong'o has preformed one of the most gut-wrenching representations of an enslaved black woman. Her character, Patsey, shows the reality of an enslaved body; this body is allowed to be ogled, worked to death, beaten, and raped. This body does not belong to Patsey and for some reason, it feels as though Nyong'o's body doesn't belong to her either.

Source
Not too much has changed in regards to the black female body. Society still turns a blind eye to the raped black female body, but leers at the black female body on display. Whether it be in a Miley Cyrus music video, on the cover of King Magazine, or on a red carpet, black female bodies are still objects to be commodified. Designers have fallen all over themselves to drape their designs on Nyong'o's black body. When commentators talk about her many red carpet looks, I find myself wondering: "Are they talking about how lovely the dress is, being held up by a black mannequin? Or are they talking about Lupita's fascinating dark body and face?"

Admittedly, my cynicism can be dangerous. Instead of taking white people at their word, I'm being suspicious of their motives. Whites could genuinely find Nyong'o so gorgeous that they don't know what to do with themselves: "I CAN'T!" They might find her beautiful without even consciously understanding their exotic motivations: "She's just so. . . noble!" For all I know, they might not be trying to be proving anything when they loudly insist how stunning she is. This is 2014, why can't I just be happy that another black woman has won an Academy Award? Young black girls of all shades are finally able to see themselves on screen! That, in itself, is really exciting!

Ugh, but then there's that nagging feeling, the one built upon institutionalized racism and colonialism. The feeling that tells me that Lupita Nyong'o will end up just like the rest of them:
  • Viola Davis, who white people thought was a national treasure because she played the help with such a noble, quiet strength. 
  • Quvenzhan√© Wallis, who was actually in 12 Years a Slave, but didn't receive much press. For her role as Hushpuppy, in Beasts of the Southern Wild, she was nominated for a Best Leading Actress Oscar. During Oscars night, she was called the C-word by The Onion in a jokey tweet.
  • Gabourey Sidibe, who played Precious, another "hard to watch" film. The white criticism was mixed and decidedly trite. But almost all of it had to do with her obesity.
  • Halle Berry, the only black female to win the Best Leading Actress award. Ever. Had to preform the most cringe-worthy, upsetting sex scene with Billy Bob Thornton to be recognized by the Academy. 
 All of this is to say, Hopefully, one day, a black actress will win an Academy Award based on a performance that's not based on the oppression of black women. Cate Blanchett won the award for Best Leading Actress last night. In the Woody Allen film, Blue Jasmine, she plays a New York socialite, whose life falls apart, forcing her to live with her sister in San Francisco. I'm sure she did an excellent job, she's a great actress! But did she have to prove anything or teach black people a valuable lesson in history or humanity to get her award? Was she involved in a "teachable moment?"

Just as Blanchett is classically beautiful in, I don't know. . . a kind of timeless way, I'm still hoping for the next great black actress to be beautiful in the same way. Not in an exotic, noble, new-car smelling way.


82 comments:

  1. While I agree that black women often win Oscars for stereotypical roles, can we just celebrate that this sista's beauty is being upheld? She's a beautiful woman, and yes her beauty may have opened some eyes to the gorgeousness of dark skinned black women. And yes she still owns her body. The woman is all over fashion magazines, I imagine by her own choice. And she has made a lot of dark skinned black girls and women around the world appreciate their beauty more. I don't think people are fetishizing her. I think people find her beautiful and I don't see a problem with that.
    --CocoaFly.com

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    1. Yeah, I know, but. . .
      Like I said before, I hate to be that cynical about the world, but it's difficult to separate from historical context that still effects black people today.

      However, you do raise a great point about opening Hollywood up to new shades of beautiful. Young black girls need to be reminded, fiercely, that they are worthy!

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  2. I can't help but detect a tinge of racism in their unexpressed thoughts like, "I can't believe someone so dark is attractive, or I can't believe someone so dark can look so good in such a beautiful dress."

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    1. I think you may have said it better than I was able to write. But you're right, that's what the coverage was starting to feel like. Like I said, it just irked me out a little.

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    2. Well put Anita and a well written article. You'd think Lupita's look was some sort of anomaly with black women when actually they grow on trees particulrly in black countries. I see Lupitas week in week out in London. This is not to take anything away from the sistah. Part of the cause of the "shock and awe" of her beauty comes from them erroeously thinking they're the most populous diverse phenotype when actually it's the opposite.

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  3. A well-written piece... while I think both Blanchett's as well as Nyong'o's awards are richly deserved (both were phenomenal in their films), I would also like to point out that the Academy awards are steeped in their own stereotypes...

    You have already discussed Nyong'o's character at length... but please also note that Blanchett too was playing a neurotic woman verging on breakdown, which is a perennial Oscar favourite trope... while her performance was flawless, the very fact that such roles attract more award traction than others goes to show the deep sexism within which the Academy is implicated...

    Then again what else does one expect?? The majority of the voters are white men in their fifties/ post-fifties...

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    1. Right?? That's a very good point about Blanchett's character. Thanks for reminding me that the same mess gets rewarded for white women as well. That's fair.

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  4. I was glad that she mentioned Yale in her acceptance speech. Kind of a, "I'm not the jungle queen you think I am." I'm looking forward to the roles that she'll play/movies she'll direct in the future.

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    1. For sure, I think it was good to remind the audience of that. I believe the next film she's in is the Liam Neeson air plane movie! So she's definitely mainstream and trying new roles!

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  5. I find this article to be all too suspicious. And a little backward. I realise you're trying to put across that you're forward thinking and modern, but I'm not really getting that. I think you've just pulled us back a decade or two.
    And can we just remember, in hollywood, a woman's body, irrespective of the colour of her skin, is unfortunately always under speculation, judgement (both positive and negative) and ogling.
    Lupita won an oscar because she was brilliant in the role, and forgive me for being obvious, but I don't think a white woman could have played that part. I don't think that's stereotype, I think that's being true to historical fact.

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    1. I happen to disagree wit your viewpoint and I think the author points out very valid points. I also hope that when (truthful!) phrases such as "Lupita won an oscar because she was brilliant in the role, and forgive me for being obvious, but I don't think a white woman could have played that part. I don't think that's stereotype, I think that's being true to historical fact." are stated, that the same position would be held for the rarity of roles for black actresses in Hollywood. Black actresses can't possibly play white women and in foreign countries, no one complains about white women not getting sufficient roles when the society is predominantly black-ruled. All that is far more backward and silly than this could ever be.

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    2. There are so many issues with your logic expressed above. I'm not sure it's even worth explaining...

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    3. For clarity, my reply is directed towards "Unknown."

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    4. I concur with Naija princess and unknown, though i thought i'd just add that white women can indeed play roles that aren't historically or physically accurate, take Elizabeth Taylor, Vivian Lee and Sophia Loren (to name a few!) in their depictions of Cleopatra- an Egyptian Queen. And more recently, Angelina Jolie in 'A Mighty Heart' depicting a mixed heritage, Mariane Pearl. Lets get real on this issue. We are happy for any achievements of our people but we can't deny the underlying problems we continue to face. Fantastic article by the way my sentiments exactly!

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    5. Cleopatra was a Greek woman with auburn hair. She was not Egyptian. She just married into that dynasty. Know your history.

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    6. Being Greek doesn't change anything. Guess what? You can be black, Greek with auburn hair. That's not much of a stretch!

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    7. Sorry to disappoint the person who thinks Cleopatra was White/Greek, but DNA uncovered by archaeologists has already proven that she had an AFRICAN mother. Her father was indeed Greek. But are people with Greek fathers and African mothers considered White by anyone? The answer, of course, is NO! Btw, I am an African American woman who was born with strawberry blonde hair. That doesn't make me White and I do not consider myself "bi-racial" either. Both of my parents consider themselves to be Black.

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  6. Thank you for writing this. Beautiful.

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    1. Thank, MoPomp!
      If I had a facebook sticker, I'd send it to you.
      *fat kitty typing furiously*

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  7. I am a white European man. I am 53. I am very happily married with a Kenyan woman, whom I love because of her personality and, of course, because of her beauty, which sparks that thing called attraction that is essential in any marriage, but that also plays a major role in most other human relationships. In fact most of the time we all need to be somehow attracted sexually, sensually, mentally or spiritually to other people in order to establish a positive and pleasant connection with them (prove me wrong).
    I must say I was very intrigued by the article at the beginning, since it seemed to escape the last 36 hours Kenyan frenzy that so desperately devoured the human being Lupita with its desire of owning her and label her as "Kenyan" or better yet as "our Kenyan sister and daughter". A reaction not very different than the one we all saw when Barak Obama was elected President.
    Of course both events are important, the latter obviously a zillion times more than Lupita's, and I do NOT want to undermine them. They, in different ways, sign history and are huge positive examples of role models to be followed and to be inspired from. God forbid we wouldn't understand that. But in both cases how right Kenyans, or Africans more in general, are to inscribe and put they copyright symbol on those two fantastic persons? How much Kenyan culture there is in them? I don't want to say they are the result of pure western white upbringing, but as you mentioned in your article, Lupita (and certainly Obama as well) has a CV that is thousands miles away from the African regular Wananchi's life. She's surely way closer to the African American upper middle-class than to her peers in Eastern Africa. But don't get me wrong, I apply the same kind of criticism to all those Italians (Italy is where I am from) that in the same 36 hours have felt and voiced a sense of ownership on "La Grande Bellezza", the movie that won the best foreign movie award. A movie that, in the best case scenario, actually criticize and despises exactly them: a bunch of corrupted, lazy, vulgar thieves (and I could in some cases add even racist).
    So I was happy to read your words that seemed to be out of the usual asslicking choir.....But then you started this old style self victimizing story on about how Lupita had been commented merely for her black beauty more than for her talent. And even more you said this was done by white men. I honestly don't know about that, meaning I don't have the statistics, but I must say I read lots of articles praising the actress for her performance, which ultimately made her win the Oscar (and not her pretty face, which by the way you can find by the thousands in Kenya). Well, the kind of "aesthetics racism", I guess you know that already, is something that hits women across the board and white women have suffered, and still suffer of that. Not only during the Oscars' night, not only on the red carpet, but everyday in their lives. Naturally we are all free to make our personal anthropological dissertations on the what and the why, but I, personally, find very instrumental and negatively self victimizing some arguments such as the one you have made.... also forgetting that the same Lupita was the one making a (very overly admired) speech on the self recognition of her black beauty.

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    1. Gulio, I'm a 31 year old male, born in Uganda, living in Sweden and i second that!
      The author of this article should spend some time examining their racial prejudice against white men. Most the assumptions led me to believe that there has been one to many negative experiences with older white men.
      I see no suggestions of how the author would rather prefer that Lupitas "annoying" praise could have been made in a more satisfying manner.
      Now with all that said, how can I get in touch with Lupita, I have a proposal to make.

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  8. I saw a few posts about Lupita on social media yesterday. I didnt recognize her, even after viewing her fan page. I did wonder why this sister was being pushed to the front of the line so dramatically. I think she's beautiful, but until reading this blog & seeing the insert pic, I couldn't remember what role she played in th "12 years...movie. She is worthy of acknowledgement & her award, although I was disturbed to see the picture of her kissing the Oscar.

    I initially felt you were hating on the actress just a little. I like this piece though & you share the thoughts of many, I bet.
    Thanks for sharing! Peace

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    1. I didn't see the author of this piece as "a little hating on Lupita" & her words & feeling is just that:HERwords & feelings of which she's entitled.

      I suspect you'll lose that bet :-)

      Ms Lupita's performance was stellar, her intellect & humility on target. I appreciate her youthful, unabashed exuberance.

      As far as her kissing the Oscar, it won't be the 1st nor the last time an actor in the moment to do that.

      Let her have a moment.

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  9. Dear Cherish, Throughout the article you give several characterizations of different reactions/motivations by white people to Ms. Nyong'o as a woman and acter and I'm sure there are individual white people who fit all of those descriptions, from the positive to the negative. But it seems you are looking for a single theory to explain all of their behavior which is something that cannot exist. I humbly argue that a monolithic approach to understanding the situation is problematic and unable to yield the most important insights. - Kind Regards, Andrew S

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    1. I would entirely agree with this viewpoint and second it. At times, there's just no one monolithic approach that can be analyzed out of existence.

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  10. This is just a small factual edit, but Quevenzhane was nominated for best actress (lead), not supporting. Great piece though.

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  11. I've had this same discomfort, but not only with white folks. There seems to be a lot of fetishization of Lupita among blacks, too. Growing up with African girls who looked like Lupita, I remember them being teased and made to feel ugly constantly. Now the same people who tormented them are on social media breathlessly fawning over Lupita's beauty. I am grateful for all the love that Lupita has shown and has been shown, but I haven't stopped wondering: how would a young Lupita be received by her third-grade classmates? Is the admiration of white and black folks toward Lupita's beauty sincere enough to trickle down to where it matters, in the formative years?

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    1. OMG! THANK YOU RYAN LEE, this is it!!!! As a dark skinned woman (as dark as Lupita) this is SO SO Annoying! All of a sudden black people are posting pics of very dark skinned woman (which was not seen before lupita) and, obviously, commenting on the shade of her skin in the process...as a dark skinned woman it feels like the aim is to segregate us as a new type of beautiful but the aim should be to see us as EQUALLY as beautiful as other women - not solely because we're dark skinned. The perception of beauty shouldn't matter as a grown woman because we should be able to know that beauty is skin deep and not everyone will be able to appreciate that beauty. I always say to myself, everyone doesn't have to find me beautiful it does nothing for me because ultimately I HOLD the keys to my confidence - many beautiful women whose beauty is widely appreciated but don't believe they're beautiful and spend a lot of time being insecure.
      This mentality usually is not the case obviously with young teens as you said and this is where it matters..and this is probably where the praise is being heard the least. The admiration needs to be heard in the "teasing teenage years" where a person is most likely to be encouraged by standards of beauty in the media where very dark skinned women especially, are not really that praised - which i believe is very similar to the treatment of very pale ginger white women- with ginger people being likened to having no souls I even wonder if I as a very dark skinned teen suffered as much as someone who had been brought up with very ginger hair!

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  12. Loving your insight on Lupita as it relates to the "white gaze." I must admit though, as a Black man, while I appreciate her intelligence and masterful acting- when I see an image of her anywhere I revert to a giddy schoolboy...instantly. It is important for all of us not to objectify this sister, but it is equally important to acknowledge the fact that our collective praise of her physical beauty is a MAJOR aesthetic shift in a culture as toxically Eurocentric as ours.

    Cecilly Tyson entered the film industry in the early sixties possessing a similar "classical" African beauty, but she was relegated to portraying character roles (and she did so beautifully) because Hollywood could not "see" her in the same way that they saw Audrey Hepburn. Lupita IS a classical beauty like Hepburn, Blanchet and Tyson...she is also unapologetically BLACK, stunning and brilliant.

    Her heart-wrenching speech at the Essence awards spoke to her personal journey towards self love, a journey that many of us are engaged in on a daily basis. The responses of other black folks to Lupita mania (just read any comment section) has been equally heart- wrenching in expressions of self-hatred. The real test of our collective obsession with "all things Lupita" will be the roles that she is offered in the future. I am praying that Ava Duvernay, Dee Rees and Julie Dash have her on speed-dial.

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  13. As a dark skinned African woman, I find this article to be a bit unfair. It appears that from your natural distrust of people (some white), you are inclined to believe the worst about people's intentions. Granted, you are justified in your beliefs but I think that in Lupita's case, there may be some angles that have not been considered. Hands down, she's gorgeous and I suspect that the reason why everyone is raving about her has little to do with her dark skin and more about the total package. There are (a few) other women in media with a similar look that have not necessarily received the same attention (e.g. Alek Wek, Dania Gurira). Here is an educated, eloquent black woman who is incredibly talented and has a certain quality that people are drawn to. She just seems to be having a good time whenever you see her. She defies the traditional standards of beauty (including the body you speak of) yet we can't get enough of her.

    I offer the following as potential reasons why she is such a sensation (at least for the 13mins that she has left)
    1. Lupita is a representation of women who may have been excluded from the beauty spectrum and an opportunity for young girls to see an image of themselves on TV
    2. She represents the many black women who are educated, poised and elegant but have been underrepresented on TV. She is a refreshing change from the typical ghetto girl image that has been thrust upon us as a group.
    3. She represents African women all over the world that have big scary dreams and is living proof that no matter how big, dreams do come true
    I have gone on way too long but I hope you get my point. Thanks.

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    1. D Moe! You just summed up what I was literally about to type so succinctly.

      Anyone who reads Lupita's Essence Speech would probably understand that Lupita, whilst recognising Hollywood's adoration of her is nobody's object, and owns her beauty. The platform that Lupita's exoticness provides may irk the author, but we can't forget that this spotlight is providing a much needed boost for many of our darker-skinned sisters who have grown up unfortunately thinking that they are not as pretty as their lighter skinned, black counterparts. For more of my thoughts on this matter, check out my post below and tell me if you agree! ;)

      http://stellarise.wordpress.com/2014/03/03/the-seduction-of-inadequacy-and-what-lupita-nyongo-oscar-win-means-for-millions-of-young-black-girls/

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  14. I feel white people(some blacks too) are just fascinating by her because she's different from what the're used to. Kinda like a new toy, which is not exactly a good thing. Because people get bored! The rest are just overwhelmed that she is able to thrive where they never dreamed of thriving because they they felt they were too black (ugly)
    "FELT" being the keyword
    #HarshButTrue

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  15. "Hopefully, one day, a black actress will win an Academy Award based on a performance that's not based on the oppression of black women.'

    Jennifer Hudson, Dream Girls

    Whoopi Goldberg, Ghost

    This article is reaching.

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    1. In "Dream Girls," Jennifer Hudson was a single mom trying to make it on her own. I didn't see "Ghost," but the author does have a point.

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  16. As an African woman I must say that I am extremely THRILLED about the Lupita HYPE. After years of we Africans being represented as starving and Aids stricken, it is nice for the world to see that most of us are very well educated and poised. I don't see it as anything more than what it is, She is BEAUTIFUL and graceful and those are traits that are identifiable to anyone with eyes. Black OR White. I will not allow her to be discredited because you have a chip on your shoulder. Why must we question every accolade or accomplishment, why can't we just accept it as OUR RIGHT. Lupita is worthy of all this hype, and if you follow the Oscar trail you would know that last year the hype about Jennifer Lawrence was equally this much, the year before that was Emma Stone (& Viola Davis) for the help. Is Lupita's beauty so shocking to YOU, that you have to question it? Instead of searching for evil, search for good. That is all I have to say.

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  17. I think this piece is full of crap. Rather she looks like all the fake haired light skinned eurocentric Black women that the media push on us to feel comfortable.? She's African and she looks like the average African.But as soon as white folks appreciate her for the exact same reasons Black people do.It's fetishist? Let's all freak out as apparently s, she can't be appreciated for being well spoken, pleasant, actually talented as an actress and pretty. Looks to me this piece is about the author's own self hate.

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    1. You're absolutely right Patrick, only after the white media began to fawn over Lupita did the black press also begin to praise her. This says more about the long-standing issues of colorism in the black community than the questionable appreciation of white people for her beauty and talent.

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  18. Just as Blanchett is classically beautiful in, I don't know. . . a kind of timeless way, I'm still hoping for the next great black actress to be beautiful in the same way. Not in an exotic, noble, new-car smelling way.


    That comment is just offensive. YOU are the one defining Lupita's beauty as that of an exotic new car, NOT White people. Identify and ACCEPT that you have the issue here.

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    1. I absolutely agree. My mouth was agape reading this article, all I could think was "Who is thinking these gross things about Lupita??" I'm not being naive, I know we have a long way to go and we still need to deal with prejudice in the media. But the only person thinking this way about Lupita is the author, not Lupita's newfound wave of fans.

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  19. While I understand the intentions of asking whether or not she is being fetishized, I almost find insult in the question..It is almost a back handed insult if you will. It is like saying there is no way that this dark skinned black woman would get this attention unless someone was up to something. Maybe it is you who needs to examine your standards of beauty…When they fawn over Beyonce or Hale Berry, did you have an issue? Did you have an issue of Kerry Washington? But as soon as a dark skinned woman who doesn’t look like she is mixed with something becomes popular it has to be for a reason?
    There IS a reason for her popularity..She is like a living doll. A designers dream. She is lithe and petite..Yes, other women of color are out there but they are not as beautiful. (Did someone really say Whoppi?). Alek Wek was very popular, but fashion models are rarely given platforms to speak. Maybe Alek paved the way for Lupita in a sense. And yes, Lupita looks like a typical western Kenyan girl and that is the beauty of it all. She is Kenya’s girl next door and maybe the worlds idea of an exotic beauty..Lupita’s bone structure and her complexion are immaculate..She is an it girl and I don't want to ruin the moment by wondering what a white person somewhere might intend.
    There was an article that posed a far more interesting question..If the director had been African American, would he have cast a dark skinned woman in the role? The questions this topic brings up for me are the following: why does it take a director from overseas to awaken mainstream African American ideas of beauty? What message is Hollywood sending us, when it reaches across the globe to champion Black beauty, grace and intellect? What if anything does this mean for future portrayals of Black women in Hollywood and will America support images Black women that are contrary to what we see in reality shows?

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  20. This article is just an internal look at the author's shocking and very unfortunate self hatred. Why don't we just call a spade a spade... the issue isn't whether or not white people think she is beautiful, Lupita is a beautiful woman who has all the features to be considered beautiful. The real problem is that YOU do not find her beautiful and because of that you are projecting your own insecurities about a dark skinned woman considered as beautiful onto white people.

    She is not just being lauded as a brand new exotic beauty, this is what happens every year with the new "IT" girl, regardless of shape or color. Hollywood does this every year, and this year Lupita is it and rightfully so! She has been killing the fashion game, she is beautiful, has a body to die for, is Yale educated, speaks different languages, is well traveled and all in all a very well rounded female. Those are more than enough reasons for there to be so much hype surrounding her. None of which has anything to do with her "dark skin".

    Why do you think they are playing a practical joke on her? Is it because YOUR insecurities and your personal self issues make you think a woman of her race and color couldn't possibly be taken seriously? Newsflash, this is 2014 and you need to stop thinking with that slave mentality. Africans do not share that "chip on the shoulder" thing that people like you run around with. We are free, we are educated, we are not paranoid and we believe we work hard and we believe we are entitled to our rewards. No, we do not think someone is "pranking" us, so please do not cast that image over Lupita, she doesn't share those insecurities. She deserves it, and this is not a fetish.

    Why can't we just celebrate a black girl killing it at her game, instead of writing some "thought provoking" article at why she might not really be killing it. Y'all are NEVER satistied.

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    1. I kind of dont agree totally, while i think its wonderful, shes getting her due, sis is bad, the focus smells bad in some sense, perhaps its other peoples problem they never stepped out of there neighborhood to see extrodinary women of color, i think you are right in celebrating Lupita shes awesome, but please remember not to assault her person, making an idol responsible for speaking for everyone, lest we be no better than
      Patseys master making her an object to be captured. Balance.

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  21. I understand what you're trying to say. I think she is handling her time in the spotlight beautifully and she is being more than a pretty face through her speaking engagements and social change efforts. She is doing her part to improve some of the concerns you mentioned.

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  22. From my experience (as a white woman), when other white women comment on the beauty of black women (to their white friends), it often has this note of "novelty" to it, for lack of a better word. I'm trying to describe it right... I guess I would say that they do find her beautiful for all the reasons they find white starlets beautiful, but also there is this twinge of further objectification ("she's not just beautiful, she's DIFFERENT and beautiful!") and in some cases to the extent of self-righteousness ("Did you hear me call that black girl beautiful? Can't you see how deeply I relate to someone outside my race?") -- although that is a pretty extreme example. I haven't heard many comments about her other than that she was amazing in the movie, which doesn't really tell me much about the intentions of the commentator. This is only my best effort at describing my own experience.

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  23. Loved reading this, but I have to say I've seen just as many in our community obsessing over her beauty in a "she's so beautiful for a dark-skinned woman" vibe. It's tiring, really

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  24. As always.. to each their OWN opinion. This article is not written as fact, it's editorial opinion. This is the beauty of creating DIALOGUE. It warrants no judgment. I read every single comment and it's frankly discouraging to see that most people can't discuss this article without hurling insults at the author. Come on we can do better. We don't want her placing judgment on lupita, but we have all the sudden professed that we know this author enough to abuse her off self hate? Wow. Think we lost focus of the intention of the article. I think it was well written. Whether it is truth or not may never be known. As well her article may stand true in some instances and false for others. Again we will never know and we can't assume thinking for the entire population of white...Black or other what they are thinking when seeing lupita. I think there are good thoughts in this article to toss around before judgement. Doesn't mean I agree, but I don't disagree. It just makes me think and take another perspective. I think in general we all have a right to our opinions as you've displayed, but be open to learning how to dialogue in a much more conducive and constructive manner minus the unbridled emotions.

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    1. The author hurled MULTIPLE insults to white men and women, so that's just millions of people insulted in this country alone... The author said -- implicitly and/or explicitly -- the following: Calling a woman beautiful is a fetish; calling a black woman beautiful is the same as calling her exotic; it's somehow wrong for fashion writers to write about fashion; and white people are bad for complimenting non-whites. Those are insults. They are counter-productive. They are bizarre, anti-liberal, and the opposite of progressive.

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  26. I love this article. It has sparked so many comments that truely range the gamut. So, thank you. But I would like to say that I, too, considered the Oscars a sort of pure race of what is the best (cinematically speaking) that came out in the previous year. It is not. Important to bear in mind when considering what the winners/non-winners reflect on American society as a whole.

    "But let me remind you what the Oscars, for all their grandiosity, are not: a measure of cinematic greatness.

    They're a game, a sport -- and if you watch in the right spirit, they're Olympian in their power to make you cheer"

    from David Edelstein's Oscar Predictions http://www.cbsnews.com/news/david-edelstein-makes-his-oscar-predictions/

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  27. Very well written, and the honesty/self-awareness of this article lends it a great thoughtfulness. I was brought here by a friend about a very excellent topic, and will stay for the discussions to come. Again, thank you.

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  28. Interesting points made within this article. Not surprising that people don't understand or see the politics here. Fetishization of the black body - male or female - is always about politics. Strikes me as the current phase of racism to celebrate the black body so it still remains a public thing. Blackness remains a thing, an object, a currency of varying value, and as you say a commodity. Great points well made.

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  29. I absolutely understand all of your points here inasmuch as a white person can, and I thank you for sharing. One thing I will note is that for me, almost everything I've seen on social media related to Lupita has been her speeches - either the one on beauty that she gave at an awards show prior to the Oscars or the one she gave at the Oscars. I haven't seen very much on her that has not centered around her words, beliefs, and personhood independent of her skin color. Perhaps this is just the circle of friends that I have chosen, but I do believe that there is more balanced coverage for Lupita than is recognized here.

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  30. I admire the point this article brings up. However I must disagree. To try to uncover peoples motives about Lupita would be a mistake. Give her presence in the spotlight your own meaning the way she has already done. She is a representation of the dreams of young dark women everywhere the way Alek Wek was to her. Why she is being put in the spotlight is irrelevant. Undercover racism exists we know this, to try to uncover it is anti-progressive. Im an actor and I like to believe that actors win at least in part for their performance, the art. Politics are there sure, but ask yourself are you deeply moved after seeing her performance. If the answer is yes, then oppression of a black women evoked something in you, which is the whole goal of the art. And for that I say anyone who can do that so masterfully deserves an Academy

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  31. First, I appreciate this point of view, because it's one I hadn't considered. At all. I am guilty as charge of being a white woman gushing over Lupita. First, I was struck by her beauty, yes. But then her poise, her eloquence, her willingness to talk about her her insecurities growing up as a dark-skinned woman. What a great role model for my own daughter, who was born in Ethiopia, and at the age of 6, is already expressing the tragic wish that her skin was lighter in color! How happy am I to be able to show her a picture of Lupita and say, "Right now, she is considered the most beautiful woman in the world." And to see my daughter beam with pride...how is that a bad thing?

    Also, I have gushed over Gwyneth, Cate, Scarlett, all with the same fervor as I have over Lupita. So has the media. There is, and always has been, an "It Girl" in Hollywood. And yes, we can have a valuable debate over the blatently sexist overtones and the fetishizing that goes on with this long-standing trend. Or the fact that girls and women have to believe they are beautiful in order to feel they are valuable. And I also realize there is a racial history here that goes much deeper than I can personally relate to. Nonetheless, the fact that the current It Girl is a very dark-skinned, extremely intelligent and outspoken black woman, I think, will do much more thats positive for young black women and girls, than it will do harm.

    Finally, I think it's not a great idea to give white people the impression that they need to keep their positive feelings about a black person to themselves or risk being condemned and/or shamed for it by the black community. Fair or not, accurate or not, that could easily be the take-away from articles like this one.

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    1. Beautiful comment, well written. I wish the best for you and your daughter.

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  32. So I'm in fashion. I noticed Lupita I think before I saw 12 Years a Slave, but maybe knew of her role--I'm not sure. I picked her out because she or her stylist rather selected this beautiful yellow gown that suited her so well. I'm more interested in the art of the selection and how fit it is for the woman wearing it. I'm looking for the spark. However, I've refrained from jumping on the Lupita bandwagon since then. I'm glad that she is receiving such acclaim, but I can't help but view her as an industry's commodity. At least in fashion, I think she is receiving the attention she receives because right now she is what's hot and so she is what will sell magazines. Even if her image is accompanied by copy (even thoughtful copy or praise about her beauty), it's not really about her. It's about taking advantage of her rise while she has selling power. I hope that she has staying power and plays a variety of roles because like this blog entry says, there's more to her than Patsey and if she manages to last, then I think and hope this fetishization of her will die. Instead the dialogue can truly be about her merits, not what are in my opinion, thinly veiled attempts to sell what everyone wants/is talking about.

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  33. Whites seems to be most preoccupied with Nyong'o's exotic look and I think that's something we, as a society, probably need to address."

    So society needs to address something based on what this author thinks white people SEEM to be doing? No sorry. That's not how it works.

    "I've received an enormous amount of trending Facebook articles from various fashion sources that seem almost amazed by how beautiful Lupita is. It irks me that people don't find it ironic how Nyong'o has preformed one of the most gut-wrenching representations of an enslaved black woman."

    So she's irked that fashion sources commented solely on Lupita's fashion and appearance as opposed to something completely unrelated to fashion? Wow....

    "I find myself wondering: "Are they talking about how lovely the dress is, being held up by a black mannequin? Or are they talking about Lupita's fascinating dark body and face?"

    Just because it's what YOU'RE wondering, doesn't make it the reality.
    So let me get this straight, it's bad to end up like Viola Davis, Quvenzhané Wallis, Gabourey Sidibe, and Halle Berry???

    Viola Davis still has a vibrant career and is said to be developing a TV pilot with Shonda Rhimes. Wallis barely 10 years old and has her entire life ahead of her. Gaborey has been on several successful prime time cable television shows and her career is only continuing to grow. And Halle Berry....'nuff said.

    I don't see the issue with ending up like any of these women.

    " I'm sure she did an excellent job, she's a great actress! But did she have to prove anything or teach black people a valuable lesson in history or humanity to get her award? Was she involved in a "teachable moment?"

    So then she uses Cate's win for Blue Jasmine as her closing statement when she didn't even see the movie, thus not even being able to accurately answer the final question she's proposing?

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    1. Thank you for this comment! As a straight man, I often notice and even say how beautiful various women are. And if I say a black woman is beautiful, it's NOT because of exoticism; it's merely because of my (subjective) take on beauty. / As I'm sure you agree, beauty is sometimes too much covered in the media, but that's for all women of all races and all colors, the same way masculinity is obsessed over when it comes to straight male actors. And, as you noted, fashion writers are SUPPOSED to focus on fashion! / Again, good comment, and as a straight man, I cannot stand when commenters assume that we're all bad guys and think a certain way for a certain reason. It's assumptive, presumptuous, unfair, and actually damaging of otherwise good causes (such as focusing more on brains than beauty, giving black actresses more screen time, etc.).

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  34. Evelyn and I would like to say thank you to all of you who took the time to read our blog content and make thoughtful comments! We also appreciate those who liked our Facebook page and retweeted the message our piece like wildfire.

    Any writer will tell you, writing into the void kinda sucks. Its very exciting to have an audience that's willing to jump into the discussion/fray and make some ruckus.This gives us the motivation to continue writing honest essays and addressing issues that are important to us.

    Please stick around and keep reading. I can't guarantee that all of them will be as controversial as this one, but we'll definitely keep writing with the same passion.

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  35. I'm just so sick of the subtle, but constant tone of surprise you hear when white people talk about Black and/or African excellence. Like they're surprised that Africans aren't still spear waving savages. Lupita Nyong'o IS exceptional and an utterly remarkable talent. That shouldn't be a surprise just because she's from Kenya.

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    1. It's not surprise that a black person is talented. It's AMAZEMENT at the talent itself. When I say, "Wow, Maurice Ashley is a great chess player!," I am not surprised that he is. Rather, I am saying how MUCH respect I have for him as a chess player. I also say, "Wow, Kasparov was a great chess player" in the SAME EXACT TONE.

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  36. I Really appreciated this article. As a Black woman I resonated with many of the comments and most of the article as well. There were a couple things I agreed with: the fetishization of Ms. Nyong’os’ body as a Black Kenyan woman, for the most part was true for me. What was not however, was the incessant need to validate her “brains” over her “beauty”.

    More than ever I see how feminist perspective’s can be restrictive in their attempt to uplift women from their objectification. But here, by dismissing her beauty as being “less important” is not progressive enough, in my humble opinion. (Let’s not forget she was looking jacked-up in the film), so maybe people were really amazed by how beautiful she was…in the introduction to whom she was. Let’s play imaginary for a second. What if the first time you saw Mariah Carey was as the social worker in “Precious”, I was surprised home-girl could look that worn down, so maybe it’s not too bad for people to be praising her beauty.

    But…the almost amazement resonated for me, though I have various theories. I mean, there is an incessant need in American news and media culture to sensationalize things. Perhaps her fetishization was a residual of our ability to make hypervisible bodies and people in general. (I’m thinking like TMZ and Fox News). But in my mind her fetishization still has all to do with her being a female, Black, Kenyan, multi-faceted actress, because that’s who she is.

    Which brings me to my third and final point; Why isn’t anybody using her last name? I recognize that some actresses and entertainers are mononymous: (Beyonce, Ashanti, Madonna.) But as far as I know Lupita Nyong’o isn’t…so can’t we just google it if we’re unsure how to pronounce or say it…It’s not that hard. Like they say familiarity breeds contempt.

    Ok last, last point. Aspiring to the “anonymity” of a white female “classical” look is just as problematic. We as a society don’t need the anonymity of any trope, including one of white womanhood, because in reality there are systems working at hand in that as well. The fetishization of the elite and “upper class” beauty is equally as dangerous in its oppression and commodification of the female body.

    -Ms.Verbo
    http://msverbo.tumblr.com/

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  37. I do think it's possible for one person, regardless of race, to see another person, regardless of their race, and admire their beauty, intelligence, or any other qualities they possesses. I don't think its fair to assume that one group would admire a person for different reasons than another group would. When I see Lupita Nyong'o I don't see a beautiful, talented, intelligent, african, female; I see a beautiful, talented, intelligent Human Being. Just my 5 cents.

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  38. I think ALL female bodies are commodified in this kind of industry, regardless of race. And the author of this article is herself viewing people differently based on their skin colour - assuming black people are thinking one thing and white people are thinking another thing?

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  39. Excuse me? You say that CB is beautiful in a classic, timeless way. Well, that's how many ;people feel about Lupita Nyong'o. Shame on you for assuming why people find her beautiful. She is beautiful, period. If YOU think she's exotic, then that's on YOU. If you think CB isn't exotic, then that's also on you. There's NOTHING wrong with us saying that this woman is gorgeous. It's subjective, sure, but not wrong. If anything, we should be disturbed that ALL woman, of ALL races and colors, are valued by physical beauty in many cases. With this note, I agree, of course. And of course I agree that black women deserve more roles, more time on screen, more Oscar nods, and more respect for their INNER talents. But again, YOU are the one calling her "exotic" -- which is the most troubling thing of all.

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  40. I'm a white woman and Lupita fangirl. It really isn't anymore complicated than I think she's amazingly talented, admire her princess dresses, note she seems like a lovely person, and wish her well. It's the same fondness I have for Jennifer Lawrence or Emma Stone.

    I'm not attempting to speak for all or even most white people, but some of us just really like princess dresses and/or nice people. ;)

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  41. As a white women who finds Lupita Nyong'o gorgeous I definitely need to comment on this. I find Lupita equally as stunning as Jennifer Lawrence. If you look around, fashion designers all want Jennifer Lawrence to wear their designs as well. Why? Because she is a famous, gorgeous, classy celebrity. Those are the very same reasons they all want Lupita. Not to "use" her for her dark skin. Why can't everyone just be happy that Lupita got a well deserved award for her amazing talent. Sometimes people make racism out of nothing and when that happens they are merely contributing to racism itself.

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    1. Why is it that our views are not respected as valid unless agreed to by whites? Why is that when a black person, for example, says, "I've been stabbed and the knife is still there, whites, for example, insist that they are imagining it? We are not 'making racism' out of nothing. Racism exists and is a part of our everyday existence; it's not an event.

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    2. Racism exists, in fact it is all over the damn place, but is admiring this wondrous woman racism?

      Someone explain to me how I can do it right.

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  42. you ended with the statement that Cate Blanchett is classically beautiful and Lupita is exotically beautiful. I think an important issue is that black beauty is not classic, timeless beauty. That is a white normative view of beauty.Perhaps we need to change the way beauty is described to include variety within the norm, not just different kinds of "classic" white beauty and then everyone else's "exotic." Even white women with darker skin tones, olive skin tones, that straddle a line of ambiguity get labeled "exotic." Calling someone's appearance exotic is white normative, as it implies that the "exotic" person is an anomaly, regardless of how diverse and populous this world truly is. It makes that someone into an other. Just because I do not look like you does not mean I am exotically beautiful. There are millions of women that look like me, they just don't live here, they don't get media exposure, and they are not exotic. Lupita Nyong'o may not be beautiful in the same way as Cate Blanchett, but neither is she "new car smell" beautiful. She just is beautiful and I think it's important that we change our vocabulary to be inclusive if dialogues like this are going to take place. At least we should be conscious of what our words imply and the thinking that lies behind them.

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  43. We from Kenya are glad that the movie has given her the opportunity to be recognized. We fell in love with her acting long ago and especially when she appeared in the 'Shuga' series and we knew she would go places. As for her beauty, of course she's beautiful, as beautiful as a black woman can be. The advantage of living in Afrika is that you are always surrounded by beauty. Our mothers, our sisters, our daughters; they are all beautiful! Afrika is beauty! It is this fact that makes whites try to make it look like they bestow the beauty on her by their designer dresses but fact is Lupita is not beautiful because she wears Prada, she is beautiful because she is Afrikan!

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  44. I agree with your blog post. I find it interesting to hear people in general but specifically black people comment that "she speaks so eloquently" and its great to have examples of women with "dark complexions". Why is the commentary about her speaking abilities? I am aware that in general there is a shortage of women of color in Hollywood however....Why is the commentary about her complexion or hue as opposed to just being glad to have women of color represented, in general?

    Great observation and our commentary needs to be re framed because it comes across as a "back handed" compliment.

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  45. Thank YOU! I am a black woman who was birthed, raised and surrounded daily by black women just as, if not more, beautiful than Lupita. Our beauty is effortless and plentiful. That she is singled out, "look, a pretty black girl", is insulting.

    I think Lupita is gorgeeous and deserving of all the praise she is receiving, not merely for her undeniable beauty but also for her considerable talent. It was her portrayal of Patsy that haunted me days after I viewed the film. As a black woman I identified that Lupita was voicing for my ancestors. Lupita disappeared and Patsy emerged. Perhaps, for the glitterati and the fashionistas, that is what the 'fuss' is about. They felt bad/guilty about Patsy being tortured and left in her misery, but now, voila! She emerges as LUPITA! Beautiful and unscathed. *insert big sigh of relief*. I do believe this is mostly unconscious behavior, but it is no less damaging. She too will be discarded like the aforementioned actresses because, after all there can only be one at the top at a time.

    Thank you for this piece. It's a breathing of fresh air. Will be sharing.

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  46. For years and still the beauty fetish has been a eurocentric aesthetic. I am happy that Lupita's black (skin, confidence, intelligence, brilliant talent) is and has become an object of fetishization in what is otherwise a very rigid beauty aesthetic. I am happy that fetishizing her has broken the monotony of the white (female) actor fantasy and standard of beauty. Let us fetishize her some more

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  47. There is WAY too much derailing, tone policing and privileged malarkey going on here and I'm not cool with that at all.

    I understand where Charish is coming from. The cynicism is a result of a life lived as a dual minority in a society that devalues blackness and womanhood. That cynicism is a protective mechanism, a way to shield our psyches from yet more disappointment that not a damn thing has changed. It's not personally directed at WHITE PEEPUL (spelling intentional) but at the system of oppression which the marginalized operate under every day. Acting like you're a 'speschul snowflake' means nothing if you're still blind to the pain such cynicism masks.

    Yes, I'm loving Lupita. The same way I love Nina, Cicely, Miriam, Nichelle, Grace, Octavia (Butler), Alek and Janelle. The same way I love Josephine, Eartha, Aretha and Esperanza. I love black beauty in all her glorious permutations. What saddens me is that many in my community, because of colorism, do not. We know the genesis of colorism yet are still shackled to it. Not that I'm willing to let Eurocentric colonialist thinking off the hook, but there needs to be a point where we as black folks say ENOUGH! When media created by us for US upholds one look/skin tone/hair texture over our diversity, we need to stop funding their foolishness. Many of us know of or have heard dark-skinned women told (as a compliment) that they were 'pretty for a dark-skinned girl'. We need to stop that.

    By the way, Charish, this was an awesome article, but I totally disagree with you about Monster's Ball. To this day, I do not understand why that less than 30 second scene overshadows the brilliant and gut-wrenching performance. The studio didn't even want Halle Berry for the part because she was thought of as a 'glamour girl'. She had to fight for it, to be taken seriously. And so what, she had CONSENSUAL sex with a white man. So do countless black women every day. Leave the slut-shaming to the misogynists.

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  48. Thank you for this article. I am a white man, I find Nyong'o to be absolutely lovely and undeniably talented, but I have the same gut feeling that something is not... right... about the obsession with her. It's almost as if white America is shocked that they find a dark-skinned black woman so attractive. Even more disturbing is the "she's so eloquent" line, as if it should be a surprise that a black woman who doesn't look like Halle Berry or Zoe Saldana would have ideas in her head or powerful words to speak. I tried to write it off as due to her "foreignness," a less insidious form of ignorance, but I am afraid it is more than that.

    In any case, none of this is meant to take away from her fame, her talent, or her Oscar win; similarly, I can't say that broadening white America's perception of beauty is a bad thing, if indeed that is what this is doing.

    Just a bit from my own perspective. Will be sharing your writing with friends. Cheers.

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  49. For me its not that she is being objectified, that is something women have been dealing with for centuries not just black women (though our commodification is differs greatly in the context of slavery). For me its just how surprised and fascinated they are that a black women could even posses such beauty. There lies the underlying assumption that black women aren't beautiful, intelligent, or talented, making Lupita even more special. That is what rubs me the wrong way.

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  51. I agree with a lot of this, and then I also disagree with a lot of this. Lupita is undobutedly "fetishized" but the reasons are far less grim than I think you may perceive them to be. Am I saying America is completely non-racist? god no. But in this case, her praise for being "so beautiful I just can't" is merely white people jumping at the opportunity to praise a black woman, and so exaggerate. Its almsot as if they're trying to say "hey look we're not racist, Lupita is gorgeous!" its silly. its trendy, and more people should be paying attention to her acting ability and accomplishments, but it isn't so scary. And on your comment that so few black women get academy awards, theres a problem there but its not that they aren't given awards- its that they never get cast in the meaty roles such as Cate Blanchett's, and that's the real crime. Being a minority and a female in hollywood, or even the theater world, makes it nightmarishly hard to find a job, just because not enough roles are created for them. My own serious problem with this article is in comparing her being upheld for her beauty to the ogling of slave-masters who rape and beat her. there are two kinds of ogling- the disgusting rapey-slave master kind, and the kind where you are in awe. They're incomparable, and to say it means she doesn't own her body for that is silly. Furthermore, she's being beautified, not objectified, though that is absolutely a problem in the case of many other actresses.And as far as the young girl who was nominated for "Beasts of the Southern Wild", (I'm not going to even try to spell her name, sorry haha), it is useful to know that The Onion is a purely satirical newspaper. Nothing they say is something that they want top be taken seriously, its meant to point out the more ludicrous aspects of our society. Overall though, regardless of Lupita's situation there is undoubtedly a double standard towards black women that needs to be removed. I don't agree with all of your details but your main message in its most general broad form I definitely agree with.

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