Lupita Nyong’o continues to be our girl crush. The stunning actress, who will appear in the live action version of the Jungle Book and the highly anticipated Star Wars: The Force Awakens, covered the October issue of Vogue and we are feeling this! Vogue got it exactly right, putting Lupita in looks that accent her natural beauty. But it’s the accompanying interview that is truly fascinating and gives deeper insight into the graceful actress’ identity. In it she discusses how, as a young college student, she came to understand Black American identity in relation to her African identity;
Lupita moved to America at 20 and took classes in film and African studies at Massachusetts’s Hampshire College. It was here that she was confronted with race for the first time. “As Africans, we don’t grow up with a racial identity. We grow up with cultural and ethnic identity before racial identity. I never used the word black as a child. It was never a thing. When was I ever discussing black? Why?”
At Hampshire, she says, “I realized that my skin color was making some people see me differently.” The moment this became apparent was in class, when Lupita wrote a paper on independent American film. After reading it, Lupita’s professor instructed her to go to the Writing Center to get help with her writing skills. But having looked over Lupita’s paper, the teacher at the center asked her, “Why are you here?” “I said, ‘Because my teacher said I should come,’ ” says Lupita. “And she said, ‘I could use this paper to teach the people who come here how to write.’ ” Puzzled, Lupita looked at two Caucasian students’ papers in class. Even though they were full of grammatical errors, these kids had not been given extra teaching. “And then I realized that there was maybe one other black person in the class, who had also been sent to the Writing Center.”
Lupita has been praised for bringing much-needed mainstream attention to the beauty of dark skin and, fascinatingly, this is an awareness that is also impacting her native Kenya. The article reveals that Lupita is of the Luo people, who are among the darkest on the African continent.
Lupita’s career path was not without its obstacles. As a teenager auditioning in Nairobi, she was told that her skin was “too dark” for her to be on television. Lupita is Luo, a member of the Nilotic tribe that migrated south from Sudan. They are one of the darkest-skinned of the African tribes. Although the Luo are a sizable ethnic group in Kenya, known for their intelligence and scholarship, the Luo language, like most other tribal tongues, was forbidden at Kenyan schools. She had to speak English or Swahili. “So there was a certain amount of shame attached to my mother tongue.… I developed this discomfort in all things that identified me as ethnically Luo when I was a teenager.”
It seems the actress’ success and visibility are bringing dark skinned pride to both Africa and America. Wonderful!
What do you think of Lupita’s photos and feature?