Lupita Nyong’o: ‘There is a part of me that will always feel unattractive’

lupita THR

Black Panther comes out on February 15/16. I feel strongly that it is going to be a massive hit, possibly even one of the biggest hits of the year. I also feel strongly that it will be a hit movie mostly because of Ryan Coogler, Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan and the fact that Marvel is really doing this. But Lupita Nyong’o is in it too, and I’m sure she’ll be front and center for the promotion too. Look, here she is on the cover of The Hollywood Reporter! I wish Black Panther was about a Wakandan princess who comes home to be a queen, but alas, that’s not where we are. To be fair though, THR didn’t just give her a cover because she’s third-credited actor on Black Panther – they give her a lot of room to talk about Kenyan politics, Harvey Weinstein and how much her life has changed in the past five years or so. You can read the full piece here. Highlights:

The fear of the “Oscar curse”: “The fear of failure was just as high as the high of success. Because I could fall, and I could fall far.”

Self-image, even with a Lancome contract: “There is a part of me that will always feel unattractive. That’s OK, because it will keep me grounded. I don’t need to be so full of myself that I feel I am without flaw. I can feel beautiful and imperfect at the same time. I have a healthy relationship with my aesthetic insecurities.”

Her op-ed about Harvey Weinstein: “I felt uncomfortable in my silence, and I wanted to liberate myself from it and contribute to the discussion. That was just what I felt I needed to do, quite viscerally. I couldn’t sleep. I needed to get it out.” Over several days, she wrote and wrote, alone with her computer, then showed what she had crafted to her mother. “I had to talk to her about it because it was something that we hadn’t talked about. She was really moved and very supportive.”

Whether she’s a political person: “I am very emotional about politics, in a way that makes it hard for me to articulate things in a rational fashion. I don’t know. I had to share my father with politics for so long.” She laughs. “I don’t ever want to be president — let’s just get that out of the way.”

Going to Hampshire College:
“It was culturally shocking and culturally discombobulating,” she admits. At the university, “I was regarded with a fascination that was weird: I had grown up watching Americans on TV, so they were not as unfamiliar to me as I was to them, and that was something I had to negotiate. Hampshire can be very casual, and I was the kind of student that ironed my clothes the night before. But it was also a very liberating place because I learned that I was self-sufficient and self-driven, that I could set goals without someone flogging me.”

She plays “the warrior Nakia” in Black Panther: “[She is] a rebel but a loyalist at the same time. She wants to go her own way but also wants to serve her nation.” The film centers on “what it means to be from a place and welcome others into it. T’Challa [Chadwick Boseman] is the leader of an isolated nation that has managed to keep its autonomy and be self-determining because it has shielded itself from colonization, and how does that nation now relate with the rest of the world? We were creating an aspirational world where an African people are in charge of their own destiny. And that really appealed to me and had the little girl inside me jumping for joy. To just have African people, black people, at the center of that narrative is so exciting.”

She wants kids. “I feel I was born to be a mother,” she says, though where she would raise her children, she doesn’t know. “Somewhere where there’s grass. Because I want my kids to be able to run around and discover things with their feet and their hands. I still love climbing trees. There’s no trees to climb here.”

[From THR]

“We were creating an aspirational world where an African people are in charge of their own destiny… To just have African people, black people, at the center of that narrative is so exciting.” It IS exciting, and it’s also depressing to realize how few films fit that criteria. Sure, there are historical films about Africans, which are usually about suffering and pain. There are a handful of fictional stories set in African countries, but think about it: Black Panther is a Marvel film, with a huge budget, and they got to build an entire fictional world/country in which African people are driving their own narratives. It’s incredible.

Embed from Getty Images

Cover courtesy of THR, additional photo courtesy of Getty.

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18 Responses to “Lupita Nyong’o: ‘There is a part of me that will always feel unattractive’”

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  1. Jess says:

    She is incredible. This article is great. And the movie is going to be ginormous! I bought my tickets for opening night weeks ago and cannot wait (and I say this as a geek who’s getting tired of all of the Avenger movies!) I agree it would be awesome to have a woman of color at the very center of the film, but I’m taking consolation in the fact that there are a ton of fierce women of color generally in the center of the film. I’m getting sick of Hollywood having one strong woman (or one person of color) in the movie and then everyone else gets be white dudes (a la Arrival or Avengers or even my beloved Wonder Woman after we leave the Amazonians). Even in Rogue One, which had Jyn at the center, women only spoke 28% of the lines.

  2. Kata says:

    I’m sure there are many movies that put African people at the centre of the narrative – but they’re probably made in African countries. They should get more exposure. The need for everything and everyone to be defined trough America’s lens is quite problematic.

    I’m not from Africa, but I am from a part of Europe that is often seen as less than or inferior to Western and Northern Europe, and we’re never acurately portrayed in foreign movies, but I wish we could stop yearning for validation from the West so much and base our view of ourselves on their opinion. The last paragraph reminded me of that mindset.

    • cr says:

      “but I wish we could stop yearning for validation from the West so much and base our view of ourselves on their opinion. The last paragraph reminded me of that mindset.”

      Edward Said’s Orientalism and Maria Todorova’s Imagining the Balkans look at how the ME and the Balkans see themselves is often a product of ‘western’ views of those areas.
      I’ll have to look and see if there are similar works for areas of Africa.

    • India Rose says:

      Yet, correct me if I’m wrong, she’s talking about African-Americans. We need stories told by (and about) people of various races, gender identities, religions and ethnicities. We need our children to see images of themselves in the media. And we need to stop putting the experience of white males at the center of most stories. That makes outside experiences seem abnormal.

      My extended family includes black, white and Asian-American children. I try to keep paintings, photos and books around the house to normalize various races and counteract the very white media images my children and nephews see. Children need to know how beautiful they are JUST as they are, so one day there isn’t always a small part of them that feels unattractive, if that is, as I’m guessing, part of institutionalized racism.

  3. So-No says:

    I love her. Her very presence is so inspirational. The fact that she gets to be an It-girl on the cover of magazines is just huge. Then she talks and speaks with such eloquence and insight. Yes I am blown away. I wish there was a woman with her skin tone that had been featured so prominently in the mainstream when I was coming up.

    I know some people might think she is displaying false sincerity when she says a part of her will always feel unattractive because she’s beautiful but I get it. I was raised in South Louisiana /Creole culture and I have a lighter skinned twin sister. Some people here prioritized fairer skin no matter how “beautiful” you were. I got told so many times well you’re pretty for a dark-skinned girl that I internalized it. As if there’s some condition that predicates beauty. But when you’re young it can be hard to understand that.

    I’ve moved away but that stuff still stays with you. Which is why I say representation matters. Of course people have to get to a place where they value their own self-worth but representation and seeing someone beautiful like her featured so prominently certainly helps.

  4. Indiana Joanna says:

    She’s gorgeous. And she seems exceptionally bright while knowing being beautiful isn’t everything.

    Saw her on Henry Louis Gates’ PBS “Finding Your Roots” and she comes from a really interesting family. Her father is a Kenyan politician.

  5. DesertReal says:

    She is so talented, intelligent, and gorgeous- I’m so so happy for her and her success. I can’t wait to see her new movie opening weekend!

  6. Erinn says:

    I think she’s stunning. She really has a spark – you can’t help but look at her. I went home last night and pulled up the post from the Black Panther carpet photos. I had to show my husband because I couldn’t believe how stunning everyone looked. And he looked at the photo of Lupita and was like “now THAT is a badass dress – she looks like a superhero in the best kind of way”. Have to say I agree.

  7. MI6 says:

    Then there is no hope for anyone!
    What a beautiful soul, inside AND out.😇

  8. Malako says:

    I am surprised she didn’t say she sometimes felt unpretty because… you know.
    She didn’t mention being black, colonialism, racism and all that.
    New pr approach?

  9. teacakes says:

    I know what she means, and it rings true to a lot of us. I wish it didn’t have to.

    On the bright side – I think Black Panther is about to do really, really well and I am SO here for all the magazine covers (Lupita has Vogue too iirc) and the press tour and publicity getting turned on black actors for once.

  10. Mabs A'Mabbin says:

    I can’t wait to see it. I’m white so I don’t want to offend or say the wrong thing or say anything at all, but a celebration is in order over pain and suffering movies. I can’t wait to rejoice, applaud and revere. And yes, having an American stamp on anything and everything is so yesterday. We go global or we stay mired in dotard’s cheaply made, gold-dipped version of a great America.

  11. Marianne says:

    The roles she has been doing post Oscar win (Star Wars, The Jungle Book, Queen of Katwe, Black Panther) have all been Disney. Which is great that they love her and giving her a platform. But I dont know if shes truly got away from the “oscar curse” just yet.

  12. SK says:

    Ah she’s so fab. Beautiful, smart, the full package.

  13. Elizabeth says:

    She is perfection, and not just physically. It’s a shame that a black woman in Hollywood has to be flawless like Lupita in order to compete with so many mediocre white women.