The first time I heard Lupita Nyong'o speak I couldn't figure out where she was from. To me, her accent had a hint of British-English with African undertones. I later learned that she was born in Mexico, grew up in Kenya and studied in the USA. A global citizen indeed. Over the months she quickly became the new "it" girl who was photographed with Anna Wintour at a fashion show and rubbing shoulders with Oprah Winfrey.
A few days ago, Lupita won the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. The world gave a standing ovation with eyes filled with tears of joy. For many, she became a symbol of hope. Her acceptance speech showed great humility and I'm certain it will be quoted for many years to come. "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."
It was a breath of fresh air that many people, from the kid on the street to the old man contemplating the meaning of life, needed to hear. It's never too late, your dreams are worth fighting for.
Judging from this year's awards season, and every other one really, it's clear that the lack of diversity is still a major issue. The fight, however, is on so many levels such as: race, class, gender, religion and age.
Personally, I would love to see more actress of color winning awards for playing characters like Olivia Pope, from Scandal, and Mary Jane Paul, from Being Mary Jane. As well as the women behind some of TV's most loved series like Shonda Rhimes (creator of Grey's Anatomy, Private Practice and Scandal) and Mara Brock Akil (creator of Girlfriends, The Game and Being Mary Jane) receiving some world-class recognition.
I was inspired by the speech Lupita gave at the Essence Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon where she spoke about the beauty of being black:
And then Alek Wek came on the international scene. A celebrated model, she was dark as night, she was on all of the runways and in every magazine and everyone was talking about how beautiful she was. Even Oprah called her beautiful and that made it a fact. I couldn't believe that people were embracing a woman who looked so much like me as beautiful. My complexion had always been an obstacle to overcome and all of a sudden, Oprah was telling me it wasn't. It was perplexing and I wanted to reject it because I had begun to enjoy the seduction of inadequacy. But a flower couldn't help but bloom inside of me. When I saw Alek I inadvertently saw a reflection of myself that I could not deny. Now, I had a spring in my step because I felt more seen, more appreciated by the far away gatekeepers of beauty, but around me the preference for light skin prevailed. To the beholders that I thought mattered, I was still unbeautiful. And my mother again would say to me, "You can't eat beauty. It doesn't feed you." And these words plagued and bothered me; I didn't really understand them until finally I realized that beauty was not a thing that I could acquire or consume, it was something that I just had to be.
It's a powerful realization that every woman, of every shade and race, needs to acknowledge. Stand in front of the mirror, look at yourself and slowly say "I. Am. Beautiful".
As an industry, we need to display a wider representation of women across all platforms. And as we celebrate diversity, we show women of all ages, from different ethnic backgrounds and of various beliefs that it is okay to love yourself, just as you are.