In the words of new Hollywood it-girl Lupita Nyong’o d, “there is no shame in Black beauty.”
The Academy Award nominee was honored with the Best Breakthrough Performance Award at ESSENCE’s 7th annual Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon in Beverly Hills today. Instead of raving about the Oscars or her breakout role in 12 Years a Slave, the 30-year-old star used her acceptance speech as a vehicle to promote inner and outer beauty.
“I want to take this opportunity to talk about beauty, Black beauty, dark beauty,” she said after fellow actress Alfre Woodard presented her with the award. “I received a letter from a girl and I’d like to share just a small part of it with you: ‘Dear Lupita,’ it reads, ‘I think you’re really lucky to be this Black but yet this successful in Hollywood overnight. I was just about to buy Dencia’s Whitenicious cream to lighten my skin when you appeared on the world map and saved me.’ My heart bled a little when I read those words, I could never have guessed that my first job out of school would be so powerful in and of itself and that it would propel me to be such an image of hope in the same way that the women of The Color Purple were to me.”
“I remember a time when I too felt unbeautiful,” she shared. “I put on the TV and only saw pale skin, I got teased and taunted about my night-shaded skin. And my one prayer to God, the miracle worker, was that I would wake up lighter-skinned…And when I was a teenager my self-hate grew worse, as you can imagine happens with adolescence.”
She went on to say that Alek Wek’s career forced her to look at brown skin differently. “A celebrated model, she was dark as night, she was on all of the runways and in every magazine and everyone was talking about how beautiful she was. Even Oprah called her beautiful and that made it a fact. I couldn’t believe that people were embracing a woman who looked so much like me, as beautiful,” she said. “A flower couldn’t help but bloom inside of me, when I saw Alek I inadvertently saw a reflection of myself that I could not deny.”
She soon learned, she said, that “beauty was not a thing that I could acquire or consume, it was something that I just had to be.”
“That kind of beauty enflames the heart and enchants the soul. It is what got Patsey in so much trouble with her master, but it is also what has kept her story alive to this day. We remember the beauty of her spirit even after the beauty of her body has faded away,” she concluded. “I hope that my presence on your screens and in the magazines may lead you, young girl, on a similar journey. That you will feel the validation of your external beauty but also get to the deeper business of being beautiful inside.”
Well said, Lupita. Well said.
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