Saturday, 26 April 2014

Is People Magazine's award to Lupita Nyong'o as the "World's Most Beautiful Woman" Patronising?

People Magazine has awarded Lupita Nyong’o as World’s Most Beautiful Woman; yet in the midst of this 'achievement' some have questioned whether it is patronizing. 

Questions like these have often occurred when minorities have received an accolade from Western culture. There were some who were quick to say that Lupita's Oscar Win, was a mere handout to the Black community. For Instance, Prominent Black personality 'Charlemagne Tha God' co-hosts of The Breakfast Club on Power 105.1 in New York City, commented that he was "sick" of slave movies. This then led to Youtubers to comment on whether her Oscar award was just another "handout". (Click here to see my youtube video on both statements)

Yet, I believe some Black people are too quick to forget that times have long since moved on from Denzel Washington not receiving the Oscar he deserved, for Malcolm X; yet remember, before that he had an Oscar for Glory. Moreover, since then the list of Black Actors and Actresses whom have won an Oscar has expanded to include Jamie Foxx (Ray), Denzel Washington (Training Day), Forest Whittaker (Last King of Scotland), Halle Berry (Monster Ball), Cuba Gooding Jr (Jeremy McGuire), Morgan Freeman (Million Dollar Baby), Whoopi Goldberg (Ghost-1900), Jennifer Hudson (Dream Girls), Mo'nique (Precious) and Octavia Spencer (The Help).  Could go as far to add that Isaac Hayes, Prince, Stevie Wonder, Lionel Riche and 3 six Mafia all have Oscars. These awards can explain why the media no longer makes such a big deal of an award being given to an African America. However, where Lupita stands out is she is African not African-American. 

Lupita is African and proud. She is proud of her heritage, her upbringing, her dark skin and her short natural hair. Whether on purpose or not, she is the antithesis of the western perceived definition of 'black beauty. Remember, People's magazine definition of "The World" really only includes North America and Europe. However, within this limited world view Lupita's look is a stark contrast to the 'norm' of Beauty especially Black Beauty.

Compare Lupita to Beyoncé; although, their talents differ, they are both prominent examples of the Black Woman. Whereas, Beyoncé’s lighter complexion and flowing (most likely weaved) hair has become a prominent and influential depiction of black beauty. Lupita's has a pure darker complexion, which is exacerbated by a short, natural and powerful hairstyle. 

Her hair reminds me of Jossete Simon, the Female Doctor in Cry Freedom and somewhat of fellow oscar winner Sidney Poitier. Many people tweeted jokingly about how jealous 'brothers' would have been of her barber, for giving her such a 'on point' shape up. But jokes aside, her striking hair is reminiscent of a young Grace Jones. 

Grace Jones is another Black Woman who was able to crack the established definition of Black Beauty. However, where they differ is Lupita is not a model she is foremost an actress.

Lupita is an actress seeking to be judged on talent and not her perceived beauty. That said, she cannot help being so natural beautiful. Thus, Lupita could well be even more so empowering to the many black women, who are trying to shun the weave and relaxer culture. Instead trying to wear their hair natural, to be empowered by their hair not entrapped by its financial burden. She could even be a symbol for White women who also are seeking a shorter cropped look, without fear of thinking they will look like a ‘boy’.

So, to the question, is it patronizing? NO! Is it anything more than a nice award? The answer is also No.

Lupita’s beauty like all beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Although, many would agree and behold her beauty to be unique and stunning. Especially, in the face of a western audience who she predominantly would not look like. However, what is unquestionable is her beautiful character and her willingness to speak her mind and uplift young women of all races/nationalities.

Therefore, if it's patronizing to Lupita, then it’s patronizing to any woman who has ever been attributed with this accolade. That said, hopefully People Magazine have also taken into account her many speeches on beauty and women; thus thought her looks were supplemented by her character. Thus considering her a Beautiful person worthy of this award and praise. 

Either way, it's a nice achievement for Lupita. It's a nice achievement for darker skinned women and young girls to see. It's a nice achievement for African women to see. But in the end its not going to change the world. However, if it is able to provide a different perspective of "beauty" to western audiences; if it is able to make a little girl somewhere in the world feel they too are beautiful, then it is a very nice achievement.

Sometimes as Black people we need to not look for the hidden agenda and just be happy for someone's achievement!

Antoine Allen

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