Lupita Nyong’o Speech on Black Women in Hollywood 2014 Transcript
Lupita Nyong’o’s speech at the ESSENCE Black Women in Hollywood Awards on March 3, 2014. Read the full transcript of the speech here.
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Lupita Nyong’o: (00:04)
I received a letter from a girl and I’d like to share just a small part of it with you. “Dear Lupita,” it reads. “I think you are really lucky to be this black, but yet this successful in Hollywood overnight. I was just about to buy dentures [inaudible 00:00:22] cream to lighten my skin when you appeared on the world map and saved me.”
Lupita Nyong’o: (00:28)
My heart bled a little when I read those words. I could never have guessed that my first job out of school would be so powerful in and of itself and that it would propel me to be such an image of hope in the same way that the women of the color purple were to me. I remember a time when I too felt unbeautiful. I put on the TV and only saw pale skin. I got teased and taunted about my night shaded skin and my one prayer to God, the miracle worker, was that I would wake up lighter skinned.
Lupita Nyong’o: (01:04)
The morning would come and I would be so excited about seeing my new skin that I would refuse to look down at myself until I was in front of a mirror, because I wanted to see my fair face first. And every day, I experienced the same disappointment of being just as dark as I had been the day before. I tried to negotiate with God. I told him I would stop stealing sugar cubes at night if he gave me what I wanted. I would listen to my mother’s every word, sitting right there, and never lose my school sweater again if he just made me a little lighter. But I guess God was unimpressed with my bargaining chips because he never listened.
Lupita Nyong’o: (01:46)
And when I was a teenager, my self hate grew worse, as you can imagine. Happens with adolescence. My mother reminded me often that she thought I was beautiful, but that was no consolation. She’s my mother. Of course she’s supposed to think I’m beautiful. And then Aleck Weck came on the international scene. A celebrated model. She was dark as night. She was on all 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 me. When I saw Aleck, I inadvertently saw a reflection of myself that I could not deny.
Lupita Nyong’o: (03:05)
Now, I had a spring in my step because I felt more seen, more appreciated by the faraway 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.
Lupita Nyong’o: (03:39)
And what my mother meant when she said you can’t eat beauty was that you can’t rely on how you look to sustain you. What actually sustains us, what is fundamentally beautiful is compassion for yourself and for those around you. That kind of beauty … Excuse me. That kind of beauty in flames the heart and enchants the soul. It is what got Patsy in so much trouble with her master, but it is also what has kept her story alive to this day. We remember the beauty of her spirit, even after the beauty of her body has faded away.
Lupita Nyong’o: (04:24)
And so I hope that my presence on your screens and in magazines may lead you, young girl, on a similar journey, that you will feel the validation of your external beauty, but also get to the deeper business of being beautiful inside. That, there is no shade in that beauty. Thank you.