The ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Black Panther’ actress wants more roles for people who look like her
Lupita Nyong’o wants more acting roles for women who look like her.
The Academy Award-winning actress spoke on the Time’s Up Panel at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City on Saturday expressing why it’s important for her to take on and create roles that tell African stories.
“When I switched on my television when I was younger living in Kenya, there was never anybody that looked like me on there, so seldom. Even when they were black, they were never dark,” she recalled, while speaking on the “Reclaiming The Narrative” panel.
“At the time, I didn’t recognize the deficit because I was able to relate to the ‘Step By Step,’ kids; I had siblings that fought. I was able to relate to the people that I saw, but it wasn’t until I was much older that I started to realize what was missing on that screen, and not seeing myself was causing a self conscious self-hate that I only grew aware of when I was a teenager and started to recognize my insecurities.”
There’s still much work to be done on inclusivity for African American actresses in Hollywood. The percentage of female characters of color in films hardly increased in 2017, from 14% to 16%, according to a study by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University. And Nyong’o believes it’s her responsibility to change that.
“Because I had existed in a world where I had learned from people who didn’t look like me, when it came time for me to have opportunities, I, too, could teach people’s understandings of themselves that don’t look like me; it works both ways,” Nyong’o said, adding: I’m so grateful for movies like ‘Black Panther’ that have had unprecedented radical, robust success. People all over the world are identifying it. It has the power to present it to more eyeballs. People are able to see themselves in it.”
“Black Panther,” the first mainstream superhero film fronted by an almost entirely black cast, earned more than $1.3 billion at the global box office when it debuted in February.
Another way the “Star Wars” and “Black Panther” actress is reclaiming the narrative quite literally is by coming out with her first children’s book. Her picture book, “Sulwe,” due out next fall, is inspired by her own struggles with the perception of beauty while growing up in Kenya. Her storybook adds more diversity in the children’s book section, where only 14% of kids books published in the U.S. contain people of color as the main characters. She also teamed up with her “Black Panther” costar Danai Gurira (a.k.a. Michonne on “The Walking Dead”) for a TV miniseries adaptation of author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “Americanah,” a story about two lovers who are torn apart when they immigrate to the West from Nigeria.
“Racial paradigms, complexions and all that, they’re just so thin and meaningless. There’s so much more to humanity, and there’s so much more for us to gain from each other,” she added. “I feel like I know my story best, and be able to tell it with people like me who also feel that gap, that gaping hole that needs to be filled of representation.”
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