Lupita Nyong'o was awarded for her breakthrough performance in 12 Years a Slave by The Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon, and in her wonderful acceptance speech she explains so perfectly why it matters to have women and minorities, and minority women, on our screens, and why it matters how they are portrayed.
I wrote down this speech that I had no time to practice so this will be the practicing session. Thank you Alfre, for such an amazing, amazing introduction and celebration of my work. And thank you very much for inviting me to be a part of such an extraordinary community. I am surrounded by people who have inspired me, women in particular whose presence on screen made me feel a little more seen and heard and understood. That it is ESSENCE that holds this event celebrating our professional gains of the year is significant, a beauty magazine that recognizes the beauty that we not just possess but also produce.
And when I was a teenager my self-hate grew worse, as you can imagine happens with adolescence. My mother reminded me often that she thought that I was beautiful but that was no conservation, she’s my mother, of course she’s supposed to think I am beautiful. And then…Alek Wek. 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. My complexion had always been an obstacle to overcome and all of a sudden Oprah was telling me it wasn’t. It was perplexing and I wanted to reject it because I had begun to enjoy the seduction of inadequacy. But 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. Now, I had a spring in my step because I felt more seen, more appreciated by the far away gatekeepers of beauty. But around me the preference for my skin prevailed, to the courters that I thought mattered I was still unbeautiful. And my mother again would say to me you can’t eat beauty, it doesn’t feed you and these words plagued and bothered me; I didn’t really understand them until finally I realized that beauty was not a thing that I could acquire or consume, it was something that I just had to be.
And so 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.
As it is, I expect better of men. I expect men to change masculine culture to make it ok to say to buddies, "Hey, don't reduce that women to just a body part, she's a whole woman" when they indicate a woman's breasts or bottom and go "Hur-Hur, I'd like to tap dat." I expect men to change masculine culture to make it a cool thing to tell a buddy, "I don't think she's sober, don't have sex with her." I expect men to change masculine culture to make it ok to listen to - and actually HEAR - women when they talk about their experiences and how they experience the world.
It seems to me that too many men who are not themselves misogynists do not feel that the above is their duty. They think that as long as they themselves do not make rape jokes, or make it difficult for women in the work place, or expect women to "put out" on the first date, they've done their part, and feel proud of themselves.
However, to me that is not enough. If any man is to get any cred for not being a misogynist, let alone being an ally, the least he must do is start helping to dismantle the toxic view of masculinity in our culture. We have examples of men doing exactly that here in HoF, and on DU in general, but far too many men still think equality is women's business, if it's something they think is valuable at all. It is not the latter group I seek to challenge, but the former - the men who are decent, yet passive.