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Lupita Nyong’o Has Become A Style Icon. But Let’s Not Forget That She’s An Actress

Lupita Nyong'o Has Become A Style Icon. But Let's Not Forget That She's An Actress

Piggybacking Nijla’s piece on Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o and seeing black romance on screen, I’ve been watching as Lupita’s star has risen almost overnight, from a relative unknown to quite possibly the most talked about actress in the business today, thanks to her stellar performance in Steve McQueen’s acclaimed drama “12 Years A Slave.”

She’s been featured in almost every fashion magazine of any significance, becoming a style icon, as designers all seem to be scrambling to put their designer gowns and accessories on her.
And deservedly so. She’s a stunning woman, in incredible physical shape, and, for a black woman like myself, and others who look like me, she represents us. And by that I mean, I’m a dark-skinned black woman with what we could say are traditional African features, and for black women like me, it’s so incredibly refreshing to see a woman who not only looks like Lupita, but who is also well-educated, intelligent, as well as grounded and sensitive, eschewing certain stereotypes, on the screen and in real life. 
She’s a lady. 
Just watch her in any interview, and see how captivating she is, and how audiences seem to be enthralled by her. She has presence, undeniably-so, and it’s no shock that the world seems to be so taken by her.
But what I’m most concerned about is what all this means for her career as an Actress! I feel like that fact is something that’s getting lost in all the wonderful TV, print and online coverage she’s been receiving. 
She is, first and foremost, an actress. That’s what got our attention in the first place, isn’t it? Her talent as an actress. Her memorable and courageous performance in “12 Years A Slave.” 
Maybe I’m jumping the gun here, but, while I’m very happy that she’s getting all this attention, I’m concerned that it won’t necessarily lead to actual work – as in, Acting work. At this stage, after all the media attention she’s received since “12 Years A Slave” debuted on the film festival circuit last September, I would think that she would’ve booked at least a couple of new projects by now. But no announcements have been made on that front. Sure, she’ll appear in the Liam Neeson airplane thriller “Non-Stop” which opens this Friday, but that was something she did before all the “12 Years A Slave” hype began. And her role in that film is a peripheral one.
I’d like to see the same kind of post-hype job bookings that Jennifer Lawrence, the actress who appears to be her main competition in the Best Supporting Actress category this year, enjoyed after she became the “it” girl when she was nominated for her performance in “Winter’s Bone,” in 2011, which was her break-out performance (she hadn’t done much before that film). And it didn’t take very long for the work to come – good work too – which put her even more in the spotlight, leading to even more roles and awards, starting with “X-Men: First Class,” and then landing the starring role in one of the biggest movie franchises in history, “The Hunger Games,” and also “Silver Linings Playbook.” All these roles came around the same time, not very long after “Winter’s Bone.”
3 years later, she’s become the young white actress whose name seems to come up on every project that calls for a young white actress. It makes me wonder what Lupita Nyong’o’s acting career is going to look like in 3 years. Once the Oscars come and go, and the press around her starts to fade, as the media goes looking for the next young actor or actress to cover their websites and magazines with, where will that leave Lupita? 
In interviews, she’s shared that she’s taking meetings, and considering various projects, but hasn’t signed up for anything yet. Although it’s not public information what those projects are, and how much she’s actually really being considered for future work by film studios and production companies. But I really hope it’s work that’s worthy of her talent, and that she doesn’t end up playing stock characters like “the best black friend,” for example, or she isn’t type-cast as the long-suffering black woman in the next period drama.
She actually might end up with a career that has her wearing several different hats: from acting, to maybe a contract with a cosmetics, skin care, fragrance company or a fashion designer (several actresses have those, including Halle Berry’s campaign with Revlon), to writing and directing her own work. So maybe she’ll be able to use all of her talent in a myriad of ways, effortlessly shifting from one world to another, and she doesn’t need to have a stellar acting career for us to say she’s a success. And I suppose it also all depends on what Lupita wants for herself, which only she, and those close to her, really know with certainty.
But she’s expressed her love for the craft of acting on numerous occasions, and her Yale Drama School education speaks to her desire to be a working actress. So one can only assume that’s something of great importance to her at the moment. 
I put her in a similar category as Danai Gurira. Not because both are dark-skinned African women with short hair cuts, but because they are multiple-threats. They act, but also direct and write. It may not be widely known that Danai has had a successful stage career as an actress and a writer, and continues to do so. I think it’s almost a given nowadays for any actress worth their salt and with varied talents, to fully explore every possible opportunity. But I think it becomes even more crucial to do so if you’re not white. I can’t help but believe that, based on history, white actresses of Danai’s and Lupita’s stature and pedigree will probably be at the top of every casting director’s list today, and will be in consideration for so many top jobs, the way their Caucasian contemporaries are. 
As I said, maybe I’m jumping the gun and panicking a little too soon, and there’s absolutely nothing to worry about here. But we’ve been here before. As Nijla aptly stated in her piece, wondering what obstacles an actress like Lupita (and actors like Michael B. Jordan, and productions of refreshing, contemporary stories about black people) might face:
The same systemic obstacles that prevent any Octavia Butler novels from being adapted into films, or kept Theodore Witcher from making another film after Love Jones. The same reasons that prompted Viola Davis to speak about the lack of roles offered to her, and why certain young, talented actresses like Adepero Oduye and Emayatzy Corinealdi, aren’t racking up roles left and right like their white counterparts. 
I just simply hope that a year or two from now, we’re not writing pieces on this blog, and elsewhere, wondering what happened to Lupita Nyong’o’s acting career. It would be an absolute shame if Hollywood, as well as independent producers, don’t exploit her talent as an actress.
She has the physical presence, and has displayed a vulnerability that would make her perfect for a variety of roles – from an action movie heroine, to the star of a romantic comedy, to the lead in a complex character study, to a historical drama or historical epic. 
Utilize her!
I’d love to see Oprah Winfrey turn all that adulation she clearly has for Lupita into a role or two for Lupita, in projects produced by Oprah.
She really should win the Oscar in her category, but, given that Jennifer Lawrence is proving to be stubborn competition, that’s not at all a guarantee. So I wouldn’t say Lupita has the Best Supporting Actress Oscar locked up just yet. 
But even if she does win, as has been well-documented on this blog in the past with other black Oscar winners, it may not do very much to lift her career prospects. 
So here’s hoping that all this wonderful press she’s been receiving for the past 6 months (and which seems to have really amplified in the last few weeks) eventually leads to a barrage of great acting roles for her. She’s more than a style icon.
She’s a talented actress.
Raquel Lewis is an independent writer and lover of cinema, working and living in New York City.

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Comments

Jane

So much potential but the writer did NO research on the subject. Look at her background, the schools she went to, her family of high achievers, her charm at working V WELL behind the scenes, her philanthropy…..you guys just don't get it. I get you're being told to write a piece…NOW on her but why don't you actually look at her personality? She does things in her own PACE and TIME, hence being 31! Chill, she will be just fine.

jo smith

Well, Lupita won as she will do in everything she touches. You are a good writer but don't write articles that are warped…you credit her then discredit her it ridicious.

Linda

Oprah had the better performance in the butler! She was in the right place at the right time!
it was time for real movie about slavery. They had to find a dark beautiful young actress! she will work. But will she reach this again? nobody really wants to talk about her skin color. Would we really change places with this Academy award winner? I know this is the director was with a white woman. He cast her for her beautiful self. But it's not when he's attracted too. one thing I do know if she's getting a lot more attention from white men than
She is from black men.

Donella

I wonder if Lupita will go the indie route or write/produce her own work.

booksNends

I think what Lupita needs to do is establish a relationship with an auteur director who will keep casting her in his/her's films. Hopefully Steve McQueen will continue to cast her as much as he has cast Fassbender in his films. This has worked very will for several actors like JLaw & David O'Russel, Leo & Scorsese, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Lars von Trier ect. A Director with clout can always get unconventional choices cast. Plus, I want to continue to see her quality, well thought out work.

CareyCarey

CHILL CHILD… everybody should just relax. As someone mentioned, Lupita is not the first attractive and beautiful black actress to hit the scene, so what's new and what's the rush?

Personally, I believe she is making the perfect move, patience is man's best virtue. I believe it's safe to say she has been offered roles wrapped in fat dollar bills, but everything that glitters is not gold, if yu know what I mean. In other words, as my momma would say, all money ain't good money.

So if she's in it for the long haul, slow your roll, steady as she goes (on the right path) is the way to go. Think the fable The Tortoise and The Hare. The morals: 'the more haste, the worse speed' and "the race is not given to the swift but they who can endure to the end".

In reference to Lupita being slapped on the back and many shouting "Go Lupita go, you're the best girl, get that money!" lets look at what Lupita can glean from the Hare's demise. Some argue it was not the Tortoise's bravery of taking on the cocky rabbit that should be emphasised but the Hare's foolish over-confidence.

So Lupita, if you're reading along I have a song especially for you. It's an improvised or re-mixed version of 'Que Sera, Sera'

When I was just a little boy
I asked my mother
What will I be
Will I be handsome
Will I be rich
Here's what she said to me

Que sera, sera
Whatever will be, will be
The future's not ours to see
Que sera, sera
What will be, will be

Lupita you are a star
Lovely to me
Yet, the future's not ours to see
Whatever will be, will be
Just be free and do it for thee

sandra

I'm more of a glass-half-full type compared to most posters here. I'm over the dark skin fact. LN is in control of that narrative. If she is comfortable in her skin, this truth will permeate her work. Who would have advised Oprah or Whoopi to seek work in the entertainment field given the Eurocentric standard that still exists? I think LN has the fight to make the haters (self-hating blacks, narrow-minded execs, racist audience/online anon posters) eat crow pie a la Rae Dawn Chong.

FILMFIEND

@CHITA

I am sure you thought Kerry Washington would end up with a white man too. White men put WHITE women on a pedestal, not black women. She is an extremely beautiful and talented young woman and I am hoping she doesn't become an exotic African plaything to be exploited. It really seems like some black women are heavily invested in Lupita getting with a white man. Those women need to get their own love life and stop living vicariously through Lupita.

sandra

I too am concerned. She has everything to succeed: poise, sharpness, media-saavy, training, discipline, drive, hunger, memorable presence…At this point, other "it" girls usually have at least two projects lined up. I have this habit of checking Imdb when I see a new face garnering attention. There are very few exceptions to this rule. There's an extreme amount of buzz for LN because she is fresh. She represents so much. The past crop of hopeful black actressses have plateaued. No one expects anything major from Nia, Gabrielle, Sanaa, Taraji, Regina K/H, Megan, Melinda, Tamala,Halle,…Those girls have been stuck in complaining/ struggle-mode for most of their careers. I love the hunger and drive that Octavia, Naomi H, and Viola are showing. I hope to add LN to this list and pray she starts a prodco if she hasn't already. My money is on LN to break the post-black Oscar funk.

filmfiend

"She can be cast as a love interest to any race of men."

Really? I'm sorry, but you seem to have a lot more faith in the white men who run the film industry than I do. This idea that white men" find her to be astonishingly beautiful is the wishful thinking of delusional interracial crusaders. She is beautiful but she is not going to change a euroentric beauty ideal that has survived and thrived for centuries. She is not the first beautiful darkskinned black woman to come on the scene.

Barbara

I hope someone will make a Doll of Lupita so I can buy it for my little girl.

Gerry

People talking about her looks and what she's wearing can only last so long. I thought she was really good in 12 Years a Slave. She has another movie booked, but I think the role is small and for as much hype as she has gotten this year, you would think she would be more in demand. The sad thing is, many of the articles rarely speak of her talent, just her looks, who she may be dating, what she's wearing. Very superficial nonsense. She's a very talented woman and seems very down to earth, it would be a waste if she didn't end up getting the roles she deserves.

I'm glad you mentioned Danai Gurira because she is one of the most talented, yet underrated actresses around. However, she is well respected in the theater world as she has already had 15 plus award wins for her stage plays and many other honors and accolades over the years.

The movie she was in Mother of George was beautiful and my wife and I saw her play The Convert and it was absolutely wonderful. It was about three hours along, but I stayed interested the entire time.I love stories with black leads who have many layers and Danai accomplishes that in each of her plays. I would actually love to see The Convert or Eclipsed made into a movie. I can't watch The Walking Dead as it's too gross for my poor old stomach.

Hopefully more black actresses and actors start creating their own roles and telling other black stories beyond slavery or street violence. It'll be hard, but you have to start somewhere and the black audience will have to support those projects too.

Glass Half Full

As I mentioned on the Michael B Jordan post, it is so interesting how he has booked numerous projects since Fruitvale but Lupita who I think is a much more superior talent, has yet to book one role. Quality roles for Black actresses are few and far between. We are making greater strides on TV than in Feature films.
I would challenge Lupita's management to be tenacious regarding the roles she is offered. Lupita is so versatile and can play ANYTHING and ANYONE. I am concerned about her future as I am for many Black actresses in Hollywood. While Black male actors seem to have made significant strides, the Black actresses have been left out of the new found success.
I hope we get some good news very soon.

Ava

I must admit being a bit curious (not so much concerned) about what path her career will take. Hopefully that Yale career will remind people that she has invested in her craft and she will be viewed in that light.
It is tough for most actresses these days though. For every Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams starring in back to back Award nominated features, there's a Scarlett Johansson selling soda. No disrespect to Scarlett, whom I've appreciated since Ghost World (and she did Vicky Christina and Match Point) but as the reggae song goes '…pretty looks isn't all…'.
Just specifying that it's tough out there, even for the beautiful & talented.

Alias

Lupita is lovely and it is curious that nothing has been announced in terms of her next projects. It will be interesting to see what her first next big project is. Because she's so different in terms of her carriage from American black actresses I am having difficulty imagining where, exactly, she fits in. I think a good move would be to work on some projects for the BBC, since she has more of a British/foreign accent. I would love to see her as a leading lady, but I'm not holding my breath that a Hollywood studio or known indie director will, immediately, cast her in something. I do think it will take a special story, and indie director, to appropriately utilize her acting chops and beauty, not to mention the story will have to be AMAZING!

And, right now, the only person who immediately comes to mind with the desire, skills and wherewithall is Ava DuVernay. And she's already got her hands full with "Selma."
We can see, from Lupita's interviews that she's so light-hearted, and funny. I'm sure she'd like her next project to be a little lighter and fun.

Moulin

Lupita has a cookie cutter look to her. She's gorgeous and all but her looks are firm, not necessarily very feminine and that would be/is her undoing. Think of Tasha Smith or Octavia Spencers or Gabourey Sidibe. There are only certain characters out there for them. What she needs is an agent who would not hide scripts from her based on status and budget. She needs to keep working by not being overly selective. In as much as she may want the 12 years a slaves, she also needs to consider the Pariahs and Middle of Nowhere's that will come her way.

c

My concern is that when white folks lavish so much praise on Lupita, they are really throwing shade at American black women. When they use words like classy, regal and elegant to describe her, it is their way of saying those qualities are rare in "other" black women.

J

This is exactly what I'm thinking every time that I see Lupita. She's making the rounds on late night shows, in magazines, on best dressed lists, etc., but she's playing a background role like an extra in her next movie, "Non Stop". She is gorgeous, but she's so much more, especially in terms of her chosen profession!

I am really sick of seeing the same five (mediocre) black actresses being rotated in every major role that calls for a black woman. Lupita is one of many that needs to be given more great roles, leading roles preferably.

Edwina

Sidenote: why did you use such a flawed image of her here?

Liz

I would agree that Winters bone was Jennifer Lawrence breakout role but her previous role in the burning plain won her an award at the Venice film festival, so not complexly unknown. For me the best comparison would be Margot Robbie as she too has has come to fame this year in a best picture nominee. I think it will be very interesting to see who books what over the next year as Lupita has already got the Oscar nom.

Dany

Thanks for expressing my exact concern.I check her IMDb page but I can't find any new projects,maybe she's still in talks but its still strange.
This is exactly what Alfre Woodard predicted : if Lupita won't get the same chances as J.Law after the awards season it will mean that Hollywood hasn't improved a bit in its issues with racism and representation.
I hope she will get the same chances as J.Law even if it seems utopic

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