Women of color face discrimination in Hollywood

Sophie Downey, Features Editor

“When I look down at this golden statue, may it remind me and every little child that no matter where you’re from, your dreams are valid,” said actress Lupita Nyong’o as she accepted her first Academy Award on March 2.

The media’s obsession with Nyong’o reached a peak at this year’s Academy Awards, when Nyong’o accepted her first Oscar by thanking the character whose life she portrayed in “12 Years A Slave.”

“I haven’t seen her film, but I feel like all black women, especially women with darker skin, took it as a win,” said senior Kyra Hood.

“I do like her work,” said senior Fatima Ibrahim. “But I feel like with a lot of other people, it’s more of a fetish than anything.”

This idea is something that has been explored and expanded by many writers, professors, and bloggers in the past few months. While many choose to focus on the positive aspects of the attention Nyong’o is getting, others take a more critical stance.

“It irks me that people don’t find it ironic how Nyong’o has performed [sic] one of the most gut-wrenching representations of an enslaved black woman. [Patsey’s body] does not belong to Patsey and for some reason, it feels as though Nyong’o’s body doesn’t belong to her either,” wrote Charish Halliburton, a writer and poet, at the Motley News.

Halliburton is one of the many writers that has picked up on the problematic way white viewers see Nyong’o, stating that many are fascinated to the point of shock with Nyong’o’s beauty, while choosing not to focus on her acting. With news sources such as the Daily Mail classifying her beauty as ‘exotic,’ it is clear that many see her as the exception to the conventionally beautiful rule.

However, there remain many positive aspects to Nyong’o’s success. She has greatly increased the visibility of dark skinned women in Hollywood and television.

Nyong’o became only the sixth Black actress to win Best Actress in a Supporting Role. Halle Berry remains the only Black actress in the 86 years of the awards show to win in the Leading Role category.

This is not the only racial discrepancy in the Academy. During the last decade, no winners in any acting category have been Latino/a, Asian American, or Native American.

According to the news source Colorlines, statistics have shown that people of color are more likely to work in television that they are in film. While this is still a platform for visibility, television is considered lower status work. And still, many shows have yet to be seamlessly integrated.

Hood described shows that inspired her to work in film and television. “I want to create shows where the cast is integrated, and it doesn’t look forced or stupid.”

Nyong’o is also an important role model because of her darker skin. Not only are very few Black women featured in television and movies, the majority of them are lighter skinned.

“When I was younger… In the media everyone that I saw was either white or ‘exotic,’… Or really fair skinned,” explained Ibrahim. “I knew that dark women are around, I just didn’t feel like we had a voice.”

Nyong’o is an important role model not only because of her success as a dark skinned woman, but because she chooses to address the issue of race.

“I remember a time when I too felt unbeautiful. 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,” she said in her speech at the Black Women in Hollywood luncheon.

It is clear that Nyong’o understands her role, not only as an actress, but as an encouraging figure to girls and women everywhere.

“Once someone says ‘that’s not going to be that easy for you,’ they [young Black girls] can say it’s not going to be easy, but someone else did it,” said Hood.

Change in Hollywood may be coming, but it’s not coming quickly enough.

“It’s really hard, because I feel like a lot of things is convincing the white community about stuff,” explained Hood. “People of color already know how to get around in the world, it’s what we have to do. We have to watch white films, watch white shows…”

For Hood, one solution could be more writers of color. “Having writers,” she expanded, “when it comes to film, and actors who know what they’re talking about, and understand race.”

Nyong’o’s film, “12 Years A Slave,” won Best Picture, making director Steve McQueen the first Black man to win in that category.

“[Change] is happening,” said Hood. “but it’s ridiculously slow.”