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Dark skinned women were beautiful before Lupita Nyong’o

DARK-SKINNED BEAUTY: Lupita Nyong'o

ACTRESS LUPITA Nyong’o is a beautiful woman.

She has achieved many things of late including being part of one of 2014's most revered films, 12 Years a Slave.
Yet, I have a problem.

Lupita Nyong’o is all over the media. Many people talk about her remarkable beauty as if her look, grace and poise are something new. They are not new. Dark skinned people who have the same qualities have been around for a long time.

The current mainstream media ‘trend’ of embracing darker-hued ladies is exactly that in my opinion, a trend. My problem is not with her; it is the media's objectification of her. Using her as a one-dimensional ‘exotic pin-up’ to sell products is boring and irresponsible.

COLOURISM

Much of my distaste of the representation of Lupita comes from the double standards of beauty that can be observed in the mainstream media. These double standards come in the form of colourism.

Colourism is defined as prejudice and discrimination against individuals with darker skin tones, more commonly amongst people of the same ethnic group. It highlights a sort of hierarchy of colour, where the lighter the skin tone, the less individuals may experience episodes of racism, prejudice and face less scrutiny by people within their race and outside.

Aspects of colourism can be seen in many non-white societies. A more notable examples come from slavery in the Americas and the Caribbean were sexual abuse by slave masters created many mixed race slave children who may have been made house slaves instead of field slaves or granted freedom altogether. Some slave women who were abused by slave masters could receive better treatment from their masters after having these children and being objectified and abused by their masters. By extension, their lighter skinned, mixed race offspring could also receive better treatment.

WESTERN MEDIA

Women like Lupita, who share her skin tone have not been traditionally acknowledged for being beautiful in the mainstream western media. Features including: a kinkier hair type, darker skin, fuller figures, wider noses and fuller lips tend not to be celebrated unless adorned by white or lighter skinned women.

An example of this can be seen in Zoe Saldana’s casting of Nina Simone, in a biopic about the iconic artist. Saldana, who is significantly lighter skinned than Simone was prepared for the role by being made several shades darker, given a wig and having a prosthetic nose. For all of these stages the directors and producers could have just used an actress who naturally has these features instead of subjecting someone to hours and hours of make-up.


CONTROVERSY: Nina Simone and Zoe Saldana

The use of Lupita as a marketing tool may be seen as positive by some; evidence that black women are becoming accepted in the main stream. Alternatively, others may take the view that this not an example of an erosion of racism, but instead an example of tokenism, fetishism and exoticism.

Exociticism defined as the ‘charm of the unfamiliar’ is at play here as individuals who do not slot neatly into the western beauty ideal are seen as ‘other’. Exotic, different, some-how other worldly.

Despite my annoyance, at present the visibility of black actors in Hollywood is disappointingly scant. In a Guardian interview the lead actress of the French Film Girlhood, Karidja Touré said that Lupita inspired her to feature in the film. The film’s director Céline Schiamma explained that black women in French cinema are underrepresented. Therefore, Lupita's exposure is helping other minority ethnic women find a voice and a space.


INTERVIEW: Karidja Touré

Is any representation better than no representation? Despite the presence, the way Lupita is being used as ‘flavour of the month’ is not always helpful. The media need to be more responsible and holistically inclusive for how they portray individuals from all backgrounds.

Care should be taken to focus on all types of people from underrepresented groups as individuals, not just a homogenous lump used to entertain an exotic curiosity, or a poor attempt to be inclusive.

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