Looking radiant and very much at home on the red carpet, Gabourey Sidibe could be the poster child for serendipity. In almost no time at all her life has been changed forever. A week has passed since the 82nd Annual Academy Awards where she was up for Best Actress, and the novelty must surely be wearing off. At least for those of us who have never and will never be where she's been. As much as we'd love to say that it's just one of those things, in America it simply isn't. Some people are just in shock and awe that she could have defied their odds and won a slew of awards, and been nominated for that holy grail of awards -- the Oscar. She must be taking stock and looking at ways to make sure she stays in Hollywood and isn't typecast, ignored or forgotten. She proved that she's got talent, but where she takes it is what's intriguing. As a young black woman who looks unlike most of Hollywood, she's confounding the status quo, and the powers that be are probably scratching their heads and saying "What do we do with her?" What's really exciting about this is that Hollywood just isn't the only game in town. It may be the highest paying, but it's just one platform of several available to actors in the world.
The fact that her mother is African-American and her father originally from Senegal counts in her favour maybe not in Hollywood, but definitely in Nollywood. Most people in America have never heard of Nollywood but it's only, what, the second biggest film industry in the entire world? A made in Africa success story, and as has been noted by some, a prime example of Nigerians consuming Nigerian products. Not only Nigerians however, love movies from Nollywood. The whole continent has gone gaga over women like Rita Dominic, Ini Edo and Genevieve Nnaji starring in an array of roles meant to portray the twenty-first century African woman. Now, as luck would have it, some men in the US have tried to put a damper on young Sidibe's rising star, and have wanted to shake up what Nigerians call her chi or personal god. That chi of hers must be laughing all the way to the bank because her talent cannot be denied. And if it's denied over across the Atlantic, then sister come on back this side and we will write you into our scripts and you will play bank executives and CEOs, dangerous women, love interests, mothers, queens and any manner of roles you wish to portray.
That someone would have the audacity to offer their badly written version of someone else's story tells of the prejudices that they themselves suffer. It doesn't say anything about the person they are judging. As she herself has said "I think people look at me and don't expect much. Even though, I expect a whole lot."
What I love about Gabourey is that she is the revenge of every black girl who's been told no. Who has been told she cannot do something because of the way she looks and where she is from. She has a talent that won't be denied, so if Hollywood doesn't want her, we'll take her and we'll write roles just for her. That includes Oprah, Tyler Perry, Anant Singh and all the brown folk who own or influence studios -- not to mention those who can write a decent script that defies stereotypes and gets beyond dull as ditchwater 'stories' that the industry constantly spews. We need to see what other people in the world -- which is not just made up of white males and skinny blonde women -- live like and look like.
Every time I've seen an interview with her, and heard her speak or laugh, I've laughed with her and walked away smiling. It's an amazing gift. However, the criticism that the Oscar nod usually goes to black people when they play questionable roles is warranted. We have to look at a day when black people also get awarded for playing positive mother and father roles, inspirational human beings (Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela) (Angela Bassett as Tina Turner) and just about everything else under the sun. We are everything under the sun.
To much of the world, Africans are an invisible group. We are highly visible when things go wrong, but when it comes to portraying us as brilliant, formidable, creative and positive human beings something goes awry. This is why many Africans are thankful to the Nigerians, African-Americans, and others who have made movies about our collective experience as black people a more varied one, and not just a one-dimensional Hollywood stereotype.
Word is Gabourey already has a second movie coming out where she portrays a bully, and has also scored a Showtime series. All that is commendable, yet it's still worrisome as there is more she can do and is capable of, especially since her first role garnered her much praise, and award attention.
So, Gabby, if you read this -- please find more people to work with who will elevate you. You can do so much in this new game you're in, and don't let anyone ever tell you any different. Thanks for being you, you're beautiful and you're totally awesome and I think you'll be around a long time.