Lupita Nyong’o Camera Lies

Lupita Nyong'o, 12 Years a Slave star,
parents from Kenya. She was born
in Mexico.
Lupita Nyong’o and her cart full of statuettes and other hardware for her contribution to 12 Years a Slave, resurrects the negative effects of the camera on the definition of beauty. 

It also puts her parents, Peter Anyang and Dorothy Nyong’o in a quandary.  They don’t understand the nitpicking about her colour, a feeling shared by millions of black parents from Georgetown Guyana, Khartoum Sudan to Atlanta Georgia.
The camera lies because it seldom sees little black girls as adorable.  But they are, always have been.  If they are made in the image of God, they have to be.  Fortunately, their parents love them and sometimes spoil them silly. 

Enter the camera.   It decides that they are not beautiful because they don’t have colour assigned to hair, eyes and other colour coded features.  Black girls are just beautiful, as in Jill Scott, Tasha Smith, Nigerian actresses Liz Benson, Ini Edo, Mercy Johnson, Chioma Chukwuka, your daughter and your niece.

Television and cinema cameras are funny.  They would tolerate black men such as the late Bernie Mac, Taye Diggs, Tyrese Gibson, Wesley Snipes or Lance Gross but don’t find actresses such as Janet Hubert or Camille Winbush that breathtaking.   
Talking about Bernie Mac, he was part of the comedians in The Original Kings of Comedy, the film Spike Lee shot in Charlotte North Carolina.  The audience was black, the black you never see in a commercial, television presenter or sitcom, but the black that is in the majority in Chicago or Nairobi.

Peter Anyang and Dorothy Nyong’o produced such a beautiful confident woman who said hello to the world on her terms, because they did not rely on the camera.  They used ancient ingredients such as a cup of gentleness, a plate of warm food, some fruit and vegetables, a pinch of discipline, a pint of respect for family and community, a tablespoon of education and finally rivers of love from Kenya’s streams and lakes.
Lupita Nyong’o is in awe of her parents as beautiful human beings.  “I want to thank my family for your training and the Yale School of Drama,” is the least quoted line of her acceptance speech at the 2014 Academy Awards after winning an Oscar for Actress in a Supporting role. 

It is interesting that Lupita regards her upbringing as training because come to think of it, it is training, training for life.  Michelle Obama, First Lady of the United States is proof of that.  Her parents, Fraser C. Robinson 111 and Marian Shields Robinson did not say, “Baby girl, eat your greens.  They are good for you and will make you a healthy White House tenant.”
They used the same ancient ingredients.  What is the big deal?  The big deal is that gigabytes of home love is all black girls have right now because the camera is not in their favour, and never will be whether we have Michelle Obama or Lupita Nyong’o in the headlines or not.

Once upon a time, in my little corner of Africa, children were brought up by community.  Neighbours called me to order or reported any mischief to my parents.  My teachers caned me and I could not tell my parents because they would have given me a double dose of the punishment.
Aunts, grandparents, and neighbours were also custodians of beauty.  They told us we were beautiful.  They said we were well-dressed.  They said we were intelligent.  In my language, adults like saying, ‘Sizogeza sibebahle,’ translated into - we are going to take a bath so that we can be beautiful. 

Realistically however, television, films and the internet also make African children vulnerable to the camera.  Hair salons are everywhere, even in some of the remotest parts of Africa, and they sell colour coded images of beauty.
That is what makes Lupita’s parents so phenomenal (to borrow from Maya Angelou).  They raised a woman who is comfortable with her inner and outer self.   That is important because the camera is on today and off tomorrow.

Lupita has worked behind the camera.  She is a film producer and director.  She will be alright.  Her parents invested in love software that produced all the hardware for 12 Years a Slave.

Nonqaba waka Msimang is the author of Sweetness the Novel.


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