Lupita Nyong'o And The "T" Word

Lupita Nyong'o's recent success at the Oscars has left us ruminating over Hollywood tokenism.

The blogosphere is currently ablaze with all things Lupita Nyong'o. The recent Oscar winning actress (congrats!) has become Hollywood's poster girl in just a matter of months, but her stratospheric rise to 'flawless' star status is now being marred by buzzwords like 'Hollywood tokenism' and 'fetishization'. Comic memes like this one (admittedly posted on our social media to divisive responses) tap into Hollywood's dichotomous relationship with black beauty and success. If a person who happens to be black is celebrated, and their blackness is mentioned, they automatically become associated with tokenism — lest we forget Halle Berry's Oscar for Best Actress for her role in Monster's Ball).

Admittedly, it's impossible to engage with Lupita Nyong'o's ubiquitous popularity without acknowledging that her success may also benefit Hollywood's public image; see Lee and Low's infographic highlighting the Academy Awards' poor diversity stats below. Who better than a Yale educated, bilingual, beautiful actress like Lupita to front Hollywood's progressive 'we're post-racial' marketing campaign. Yes, the fact that Lupita now seems to be everyone's new best friend may certainly carry undertones of white self congratulation, it may even give people the false idea that Hollywood is a utopic land of equal opportunity for all  — read this interesting Aljazeera article about how this is not the case. But what's most important, and fundamentally triumphant about Lupita's success, be it underlined by the white establishment's self interest or not, is the mere fact that she exists, and that she - and her beauty - are being celebrated.

No one said it better than Lupita herself in her 'black women in Holywood' acceptance speech, where she highlighted the desperate need for role models who look like her. Her eloquence, intelligence and grace do a service to women in acting in general, and black women specifically, and we need more people like her on our screens.  Though Hollywood and the film industry still has a long, long way to go in representing diversity, the 'Lupita Nyong'o effect' suggests that we're on our way, and until we reach that point, words like tokenism will always resurface, but hey haters gonna hate. Now that this rant is over, check out Lupita being humble and stunning all at once and watch out for the moment where Ellen Degeneres lets slip that she, like us, loves her.


6 Samples From 'Éthiopiques' in Hip-Hop

A brief history of Ethio-jazz cultural exchange featuring songs by Nas & Damian Marley, K'naan, Madlib and more.

This article was originally published on OkayAfrica in March, 2017. We're republishing it here for our Crossroads series.

It's 2000 something. I'm holed up in my bedroom searching for samples to chop up on Fruity Loops. While deep into the free-market jungle of Amazon's suggested music section, I stumble across a compilation of Ethiopian music with faded pictures of nine guys jamming in white suit jackets. I press play on the 30 second sample.

My mind races with the opportunities these breakbeats offered a budding beat maker. Catchy organs, swinging horns, funky guitar riffs, soulful melodies and grainy and pained vocalists swoon over love lost and gained. Sung in my mother tongue—Amharic—this was a far cry from the corny synthesizer music of the 1990s that my parents played on Saturday mornings. I could actually sample this shit.

The next day, I burn a CD and pop it into my dad's car. His eyes light up when the first notes ooze out of the speakers. “Where did you get this?" He asks puzzlingly. “The internet," I respond smiling.

In the 1970s my dad was one of thousands of high school students in Addis Ababa protesting the monarchy. The protests eventually created instability which lead to a coup d'état. The monarchy was overthrown and a Marxist styled military junta composed of low ranking officers called the Derg came to power. The new regime subsequently banned music they deemed to be counter revolutionary. When the Derg came into power, Amha Eshete, a pioneering record producer and founder of Ahma Records, fled to the US and the master recordings of his label's tracks somehow ended up in a warehouse in Greece.

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