"Black beauty. Dark beauty."
April 23, 2014 6:26 PM   Subscribe

Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong'o has landed the cover of People's annual World's Most Beautiful issue. In February, she gave a moving speech (transcript) about how media depictions of "beauty" affected her. Why Lupita Nyong'o's 'People' Cover Is So Significant.
posted by lalex (26 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
She's amazing. Congrats to her and all the little girls who look like her who will feel a little more validated with things like this.
posted by sweetkid at 7:05 PM on April 23, 2014 [5 favorites]

Nyong'o really is gorgeous, and she seems to be a lovely person, as well. Every time I've seen her honored for something, she's used that as a platform to tell girls, and especially black girls, to follow their dreams, and that they're beautiful. It sounds silly to say, maybe, but it strikes me as such an extraordinary act of kindness--a willingness to take her personal achievement and use it honor and support little girls all over the world. She's incredible.
posted by MeghanC at 7:14 PM on April 23, 2014 [9 favorites]

Can't argue with her being on the cover, Lupita is astonishingly beautiful and seems to radiate a natural warmth.

I happened to see her at a concert in Atlanta a few weeks ago. She was very casual and normal in that she was there just hanging out. Even better, it was a live reading of Archer and when the cast sought audience members to participate in a skit, she was one of the first to volunteer, waving her hands like a crazed fan, but in a completely honest way. The cast didn't pick her, but the did joke around with her for a minute and she was delightful.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:21 PM on April 23, 2014 [6 favorites]

I really hope that this is more than a flash in the pan for Nyong'o -- that she continues to get good roles in movies, and also that this leads to fame for other non-white actors.
posted by jeather at 7:26 PM on April 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

leads to fame for other non-white actors.

That's a really huge and varied category there. Plenty of other nonwhite actors have found fame.
posted by sweetkid at 7:28 PM on April 23, 2014

You're right, and that was terribly poorly worded. I mean more than I hope it presages less racism in Hollywood casting choices.
posted by jeather at 7:48 PM on April 23, 2014 [4 favorites]

From the NPR piece "It's the ultimate validation that someone of deep color, with African features, has been declared beautiful."

Interesting use of the the passive voice. Agins goes on to describe Lupita's beauty as "accessible" in contrast to Alek Wek's exoticism. It seems Agins is walking a thin line delicately - to simultaneously acknowledge the significance of Lupita's mainstream acceptance for other Black women and girls while treading lightly on the fact that it's still White folks validating a non-threatening ('accessible') Black woman. It's hard for me to not pause on the fact that she, like Alex Wek, had to pass through a White filter in order to be seen by other Black women and girls.
posted by space_cookie at 8:03 PM on April 23, 2014 [10 favorites]

It's kind of curious, Mexican public opinion and media, which is usually quite racist against black people, has kind of claimed her as Mexican, just because she's born here. She seems really popular here.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 8:19 PM on April 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

What an incredibly beautiful woman.
posted by kinnakeet at 8:34 PM on April 23, 2014

It's sad that my first thought before seeing the cover was "did they digitally lighten her skin?" (It doesn't appear so.) Magazines have a track record for being particularly egregious about "whitewashing" dark skin. I know Vanity Fair got called out for digitally lightening Lupita recently. I sincerely hope she's the actress to end up changing that practice.
posted by naju at 8:42 PM on April 23, 2014

Alek Wek has such an infectious smile, she looks like all kinds of fun to hang out with.
posted by Lou Stuells at 9:18 PM on April 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

My local news station asked its Facebook audience "Who would YOU have picked?". I was expecting the usual racist nonsense that usually shows up there, and was pleasantly surprised when women of the community asked "Why pick someone else? She's gorgeous and amazing!"

And, well, she is. I'm delighted to see her radiant face looking back at me in the checkout line.
posted by MissySedai at 9:20 PM on April 23, 2014

Amazing, powerful speech.
posted by greenhornet at 11:35 PM on April 23, 2014

Are they using "nappy hair" correctly? I thought nappy hair was tightly curled with a certain flounce.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 1:33 AM on April 24, 2014

This article, and Saeed Jones's contributions to it in particular, is one of the better takes on N'yongo's "dark beauty." (I love the way that Jones takes his fellow editor to task.)
I’d argue that Hollywood — which is really just America with better makeup — doesn’t have a vocabulary for discussing black beauty in a way that doesn’t obsess over the exotic, the Other, the fucking sexy. No one says this on record, of course. But I can’t help but feel like Hollywood is just dying to say that Lupita’s beauty is as dark as “the Dark Continent.”
I read celebrations of N'yongo a lot more critically since hearing this point made. It's interesting that the linked article tries to explicitly deny Jones's point:
Wek was considered "exotic" by the fashion and beauty world. Nyong'o is different, says the Journal's Agins, "because she has a very accessible beauty. And she's a beauty everyone can agree on, no matter their race, ethnicity, gender, orientation."
posted by painquale at 3:48 AM on April 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

She's drop-dead gorgeous.

The cover celebs since 1990.

1 1990 Michelle Pfeiffer
2 1991 Julia Roberts
3 1992 Jodie Foster
4 1993 Cindy Crawford
5 1994 Meg Ryan
6 1995 Courteney Cox
7 1996 Mel Gibson
8 1997 Tom Cruise
9 1998 Leonardo DiCaprio
10 1999 Michelle Pfeiffer
11 2000 Julia Roberts
12 2001 Catherine Zeta-Jones
13 2002 Nicole Kidman
14 2003 Halle Berry
15 2004 Jennifer Aniston
16 2005 Julia Roberts
17 2006 Angelina Jolie
18 2007 Drew Barrymore
19 2008 Kate Hudson
20 2009 Christina Applegate
21 2010 Julia Roberts
22 2011 Jennifer Lopez
23 2012 Beyoncé Knowles
24 2013 Gwyneth Paltrow
25 2014 Lupita Nyong'o

so we'll probably have Julia Roberts again next year, but after that we can maybe see Laverne Cox on the cover?
posted by GrapeApiary at 5:43 AM on April 24, 2014 [4 favorites]

What, no ScarJo? Why haven't people rioted?!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:54 AM on April 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Are they using "nappy hair" correctly? I thought nappy hair was tightly curled with a certain flounce.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 4:33 AM on April 24

To my knowledge, they're correct. "Nappy" in my African-American experience, refers to the texture of African hair--specifically tightly coiled curls. No flounce implied.

I did NOT know that Ms. Nyong'o made the cover for People's Most Beautiful issue. This news has made my morning, because I'm an unabashed Lupita fan. I swear the woman can't take a bad picture, and she is *fierce* on the red carpet! Plus, did you know that she was seen at the Calvin Klein Fall NY Fashion Week sitting right next to Anna Wintour? Total confirmation of not just her beauty but her incredible fashion sense.

Painquale, thanks for that Buzzfield article. Lots of good points there. Also, if Jennifer Lawrence and Lupita Nyong'o did a film together, I would probably die of happiness on they way to my local cineplex.
posted by magstheaxe at 8:26 AM on April 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Are they using "nappy hair" correctly? I thought nappy hair was tightly curled with a certain flounce.

I think the usage is technically correct. It basically means unstraightened. However, there is often a connotation that nappy hair is misshapen and/or unkempt so IMO it's a better choice not to use the word except as a dig or clear insult.

Lupita is a stunningly beautiful woman but I'm starting to worry about her possibly getting fetished. Hopefully she and the people guiding her career can bank on her look without letting it get primarily characterized as an oddity.

Also, I've seen several sites aimed at African American women laud Lupita's achievement but I can't help but sense an unspoken gripe looming,"But when she gonna fix her hair tho?" (Note: I made a deliberate choice to express that in an Ebonics-sounding way. Of course all AA women don't speak ungrammatical English.)

Also, if Jennifer Lawrence and Lupita Nyong'o did a film together, I would probably die of happiness on they way to my local cineplex.
Oh yes. Hollywood, please get on that, stat.
posted by fuse theorem at 8:30 AM on April 24, 2014

I made a deliberate choice to express that in an Ebonics-sounding way. Of course all AA women don't speak ungrammatical English.)

Ebonics is perfectly grammatical. It just has a different grammar than Standard American English.

posted by jeather at 8:45 AM on April 24, 2014 [7 favorites]

When she won an Oscar there were a lot of solid blog posts investigating how and why Hollywood has reacted to her the way it has, to the point that it's now almost hard for me to take something like this at face value. But I think that we can take heart and be encouraged, anyway - here are the words of writer Melinda Ozongwu:
I remember Eddie Murphy making a joke sometime in the 80s that White people in America, when talking to him about Black people, would say, “We don’t mean you. You’re not really black.” They said the same thing about Sidney Poitier. But the more African Americans they saw in mainstream movies the more people realised they could not keep dismissing talented African Americans as exceptions, that any Black person, not only the ones that stood out the most, had the potential to achieve great things, and that African Americans were not a monolith. Individuals like Lupita, Chiwetel, Idris and Chimamanda may, for now, be perceived by Americans and Europeans as unusual and “exceptional” Africans, but that will pass.

For us, the spotlight on these global stars is a nice distraction from our politics and problems, or the problems caused by our politics, and it will also take some getting used to. I had a conversation with a friend who was uncomfortable with the media’s fixation with Lupita. She felt Lupita was being ogled for her ‘exoticness’ and that she was willingly allowing herself to be Hollywood’s dark-skinned mannequin. That the attention was in reality some sort of obsession masking America’s discomfort with race, and an overcompensation for what Lupita symbolised with her role in 12 Years A Slave. I say, let them be obsessed, so that an image that is so familiar to us becomes less unfamiliar to them. Let them learn to pronounce our names and enjoy our beauty. And let us enjoy the celebration because they came late to the party. They are just confirming what we’ve known all along – we’re pretty damn cool.

posted by Corinth at 8:59 AM on April 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

fuse theorem: "But when she gonna fix her hair tho?"

This morning, I was in the dr's office while some blah blah morning show was going on about Lupita, and this woman in the waiting room said to whoever she was with, "But she needs to do something with her hair -- get a weave or something." I didn't get the sense from the conversation that she really thought Lupita's hair looks bad or 'like a boy'. I bet some people do, but this woman had a more matter-of-fact tone.

I think the the root of black women's "worry" about Lupita might be that we're worried the white mainstream media elite is going to reject her soon if she doesn't get some long, swingy hair and find a few rom-coms to star in. I could confess to this worry myself, even though every time I see a picture of her, it makes me desperate to shave my head again for at least a few minutes.
posted by lesli212 at 10:06 AM on April 24, 2014

This kind of stuff makes me uncomfortable in a way I don't quite know how to describe. As a black woman, i find this both hopeful but I always get a sense of forced "everybody's colorblind now". A "look how far we white people have come". I get uncomfortable. The conversation becomes stilted, so PC, I wonder what people are really thinking.
posted by Aranquis at 2:26 PM on April 24, 2014 [4 favorites]

They really couldn't let her have the whole cover to herself could they? They just had to cram 3 caucasian faces next to her head didn't they?

You'd never see a Brad Pitt cover photo having to share space with Morgan Freeman, Tay Diggs, and Denzel Washington would you?
posted by Renoroc at 5:10 PM on April 24, 2014

Three women of color in four years? Nice work, People. I'm surprised at you.
posted by Andrhia at 5:10 PM on April 24, 2014

Renoroc, I had the same knee-jerk reaction, but that seems to be the style of cover for the most beautiful issue. Paltrow's cover and Beyonce's cover both had other Beautiful People on them, as well as some "news" stories, and that seems to be par for the course. Generally speaking, it does seem that men are a lot more likely to get a cover to themselves, but I think that in this instance, it's just the format of how People does their covers.
posted by MeghanC at 8:02 PM on April 24, 2014

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