The news broke yesterday that Oscar-winning actress, the lovely Lupita Nyong’o has been cast for a role in the upcoming film Star Wars Episode 7: The Ancient Fear. I’m glad to hear that. Coincidentally, just this past weekend my brother and I were talking about her, noting that it’s been around 3 months since she won her well-deserved Oscar, and we haven’t heard of any new film roles since then. Hadn’t heard much news about her at all, other than the endorsement deal she signed with Lancome Cosmetics. And while that is significant, as the company has never had a Black spokeswoman before, it’s still not acting.
I was wondering how her career would turn out after she won the Oscar. The sad truth, Hollywood still has a bit of a “color problem.” And Oscar wins, while impressive, simply don’t have the same career-boosting affects for Black actors has it does for White actors. Cuba Gooding Jr. went from co-starring with Tom Cruise to co-starring with a pack of dogs. And has hard as it is for Black men to make it Hollywood, it’s gotta be even harder for Black woman. Especially those who don’t fit Hollywood’s, and America’s, definition and standard of beauty. Heck, it’s hard for Halle Berry to get good film roles, now she’s going back to Television, and she’s one of the most beautiful women in history (in my humble opinion). Octavia Spencer won an Oscar and a butt-load of other awards for The Help. Didn’t catapult her to the A-list. Compare that to Jennifer Lawrence. She gets an Oscar and has been in multiple big-budget movies since then, with A-list stars.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to downplay Jennifer Lawrence’s talent in away, I think she is a great actress, all the more impressive because of her youth. I’m just saying, opportunities are different. Last year Oprah Winfrey aired a very insightful show where she interviewed Alfre Woodard, Viola Davis, Phylicia Rashad and Gabrielle Union, four very talented Black actresses, about their experiences in Hollywood. They all talked about the difficulties they faced. Even Viola Davis coming off of her well-received role in The Help. She talked about trying to develop her own projects, instead of waiting around for directors and casting agents to come to her. She said she knew she wouldn’t “be rolling around in bed with Bradley Cooper” on film. And she’s right, she’s not the type of actress that directors will immediately think of when writing and creating certain roles. Jennifer Lawrence can simply go for almost any young female role. And when casting a female role, studios can roll off a list of any number of White actresses as possibilities. But with Black actresses, and other actresses of color, they don’t get thought of, unless the role is specifically written for a Black female. And even then, Hollywood often has it’s “one or two at a time” mentality. Like right now, Zoe Saldana (whom I LOVE), is pretty much the go-to “It Girl” when they need a Black woman. Even when she’s all wrong for the part, like playing dark-skinned Nina Simone in a biopic, the studios would rather cast her and then make her skin darker and her nose wider with makeup, than actually cast a Black actress with naturally darker skin and African features. How effed up is THAT?
And that’s the problem I’d worry that Lupita will face. Her Oscar win was great, and I know it was point of pride and encouragement for other dark-skinned Black women and girls out there who aren’t made to feel beautiful enough. But that role in 12 Years A Slave was pretty much written specifically for a woman like her, a dark-skinned Black woman wtih African features. There aren’t going to be many more roles like that. If a studio is making a romantic comedy with Bradly Cooper or Channing Tatum, they aren’t going to consciously think of her as possibility to co-star unless the film is specifically about a White man who is dating an African woman. Heck, if they’re making a film with Idris Elba or Denzel Washington, they aren’t going to think of Lupita, either. It’s going to take some filmmakers to specifically create roles for her, in order to see her capitalize on her Oscar success. And apparently that is what happened with Star Wars, JJ Abrams wanted her. So that’s great. But I do wonder what will come after that. She can’t just make Star Wars films, and being in one isn’t a guarantee of stardom (just ask Hayden Christensen). I know a lot of comic-book fans are hoping that she could take over the role of Storm in future X-Men films, which I would definitely love to see. But I hope she’s not regulated to genre films, as part of an ensemble. I want to see her as a leading lady in dramas, romances, and even horror films.
I don’t mean to sound so negative. I should end this on a more hopeful note. I’ll point out that I had the same concerns about Gabourey Sidibe after her big break in Precious, which she got a bunch of awards and nominations for. That was another role that only someone who looked like her could film. But I knew it would be tough to find other roles afterward. Frankly, I thought she’d disappear after that. Yet she has managed to work rather steadily since then. Not necessarily in films, but two seasons of The Big C, and about to start her 2nd season of American Horror Story. That’s much better than I expected, so good for her. So there’s hope for Lupita, too. I know that whatever she appears in, I’ll check it out.