Here's a secret: I'm not overly fond of award shows. They can last for hours. The most exciting part of them is what everyone is wearing, and it feels like the people who should win never do. (Leonardo DiCaprio. Enough said.)
But you'd better believe that I watched this year's Academy Awards.
A major factor is that Ellen hosted, and it takes a strange person not to love her, but I was watching for another major reason:
Ms. Lupita Nyong'o.
And you'd better believe that I sobbed while listening to her acceptance speech.
Strangely, when I went to school the next day, no one seemed to share the same feeling of excitement and pride. Why had it made me so emotional? As I gazed around the room, I noticed that I was one out of three black girls in my class.
Could that have been the reason why?
From Game of Thrones to The Hunger Games, most lead roles have been held by characters with white skin. It seems as though the norm is for black characters to be the ones to get killed off. Am I supposed to be content with that?
I look at Tavi Gevinson, Kiernan Shipka, Jennifer Lawrence, Chloe Moretz and Maisie Williams with the utmost admiration. These young women are professional, but can be silly. They're amazing at what they do. But most importantly, they inspire girls like me. I want to be just like them, but I can't. This isn't a problem in the slightest, but the media sure does a fine job of making me feel that way.
Sasheer Zamata is the first black female cast member on SNL in four years.
Kerry Washington is the first black actress to lead an American network drama series since 1974.
Shonda Rhimes is the first black woman to create and executive-produce one of the ten most popular network television series on air.
You don't hear a whole lot about women like them, and I'm tired of being told that media representation doesn't matter.
What's sad is that women like them don't get the same media attention.
Sometimes I feel silly when I see girls like Justina Sharp or Amandla Stenberg on the internet and get emotional. I marvel at the way they wear their hair and do their makeup. And I still marvel at the fact that they're so pretty. I used to glare at girls with what was always deemed "normal" hair as they went on and on about how long it took to straighten. I resisted the urge to mention how my hair took almost eleven hours to braid.
You know what kind of media attention Amandla Stenberg received? Anger. People were angry because she portrayed Rue in The Hunger Games, but not because of her acting. People got upset because she's black.
When a magazine calls a woman with pale eyes and hair beautiful, I don't have any problem agreeing. They are beautiful. We all are. But what many magazines fail to realize is that there's more than one brand of beauty.
I'm not going to lie. There have been moments when I hoped for lighter skin, for hair that wasn't so thick and curly that it looked like a puffball whenever it wasn't contained. After all, that's what everyone else looked like. They were the ones good enough to be on TV, the ones who were pretty enough to be in the movies.
Media representation is important because it makes girls like me feel like we matter.
This shouldn't be a big deal. I see black women every day, many of who do amazing things. I know they exist. But it's like the media is trying to convince me that they don't. It's still groundbreaking when females are given media attention for something other than their bodies, and this sensation is even more powerful for black women.
When I don't see them in the media, it feels like no one wants them to get the recognition they deserve.
When it comes down to it, the media has a responsibility to young girls. It doesn't matter what religion or race they are. We're exposed to the thoughts presented to us, and one major one is that white woman are prettier. They deserve to get starring roles, high positions in entertainment, and magazine covers. Not us.
In some ways, women like Kerry Washington have more responsibility than white women in the media. There are so few African-American women featured in the media that a large part of this burden is placed on Kerry Washington's shoulders.
And she carries it with grace, just as many black women do.
This isn't only done to black women. Any group of women without white skin is affected by a lack of media representation, and all of the young girls that come with them are as well. By whitewashing the media, black women aren't the only ones affected.
"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. Thank you."-Lupita Nyong'o
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