On Race, Films, Essentialism, and Lupita, in America(nah)

I don’t want to be critical or cynical or anything, I swear.  No, really, I promise.

If anything, I’m so tired of the smug, smarmy, intellectual in-fightings over identity politics of late, but isn’t feeling that uncomfortable burn what it’s all about? In this age of Obama, this twilight, where “yes, we could, so why haven’t we, and will we ever?” seems to sum up everyone’s mood, it seems like one more critical tweet or Instagram or column or Facebook status is one too much.

But here we are, and here I go:

I feel the tiniest bit of a way about Lupita Nyong’o in the film adaptation of Americanah, assuming she’s going to be Ifemelu.

Yes. I said it. I’m thrilled that there will be a film adaptation. I am less thrilled about Lupita Nyong’o as Ifemelu. I apologize if that’s blasphemous in some way.

Like so many, I love and respect Lupita as an actress and style icon and accidental symbolic activist (like all women, her very existence is a political statement)  so much, and even loved her work in Shuga way before she became a household name in the USA, so I’m not criticizing her…Please understand that I’m not criticizing her. Lupita Nyong’o is not the problem.

I’m only sad that it’s assumed that she’s perfect for the role because she’s a Black African actress…THE one famous Black African actress Hollywood has accepted right now. I’m sure there are incredible Nigerian actresses who would have loved to play Ifemelu (and could name many), and whose careers could use the same boost from which Nyong’o recently benefited, and now they won’t get that chance because no one knows the difference between Kenya and Naija, and, anyway, there is still only room enough for one.


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