Lupita Nyong’o opens up about colourism and Sulwe inspiration

The actress has posted a thread of tweets on the issue and how it influenced her children’s book

FOR DARK-SKINNED GIRLS: Lupita Nyong'o

LUPITA NYONG’O has opened up about how colourism and poor representation of dark-skinned black women in arts and culture inspired her debut children’s book, Sulwe.

The Oscar-winning actress and author started the online conversation by tweeting a picture of herself aged five, saying she reflected on the feelings and fantasies of her younger self when she made the decision to write her first book.

The picture book, which is released later this month, follows the story of Sulwe, a little girl whose skin is darker than everyone she knows. Sulwe longs to be considered beautiful and bright, then a magical journey in the night sky changes everything.

“As a little girl reading, I had all of these windows into the lives of people who looked nothing like me, chances to look into their worlds, but I didn’t have any mirrors. While windows help us develop empathy and an understanding of the wider world, mirrors help us develop our sense of self, and our understanding of our own world. They ground us in our body and our experiences,” she wrote on Monday.

Acutely aware of the negative impact that poor representation can have and how seeing yourself reflected in all sorts of fields can widen aspirations, Nyong’o is keen to affect change with Sulwe’s story. 

Sulwe holds up a mirror for dark-skinned children especially, to see themselves reflected immediately, and it is a window for all the others to cherish peering into,” Nyong’o said.

Expanding on the reasons why she believed this was a necessary thing to do, Nyong’o spoke about society’s favouritism for lighter complexions and the prevalence of this mentality that lighter is better outside of majority white populations but in black communities too.

“Colourism, society’s preference for lighter skin, is alive and well. It’s not just a prejudice reserved for places with a largely white population. Throughout the world, even in Kenya, even today, there is a popular sentiment that lighter is brighter,” she said.

Nyong’o’s debut children’s book Sulwe is out on October 15. It features illustrations by Vashti Harrison, author of Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History, Little Dreamers: Visionary Women Around the World and Little Legends: Exceptional Men in Black History.

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