Lupita Nyong’o Raising Her Voice About Sexual Harassment & The Importance Of Diversity

Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o is on a mission, and has been on a mission even before she became a household name thanks to her role as Patsey in ’12 Years A Slave’. Not only has she forged an impressive career on screen, she is proving her skills on the stage after being nominated for a Tony Award for her role in Danai Gurira’s Broadway production ‘Eclipsed’.

What many of us did not know until recently was that her career behind the scenes was at one stage potentially going to be derailed due to one person in particular. In the wake of the recent Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment and rape scandal, Lupita has become the latest high-profile actress to come forward, sharing her own experience being bullied by him to the point where he told her if she did not comply with his disgusting advances her career may not fare so well. Her op-ed in the New York Times has gone viral, and once again shows the importance of women speaking out to dismantle systemic bias, misogyny and actions that are harmful.

“I had shelved my experience with Harvey far in the recesses of my mind, joining in the conspiracy of silence that has allowed this predator to prowl for so many years. I had felt very much alone when these things happened, and I had blamed myself for a lot of it, quite like many of the other women who have shared their stories. But now that this is being discussed openly, I have not been able to avoid the memories resurfacing. I have felt sick in the pit of my stomach. I have felt such a flare of rage that the experience I recount below was not a unique incident with me, but rather part of a sinister pattern of behavior,” she wrote.

After describing a few incidents where she ended up being able to evade some of the more horrific and damaging actions other actresses and women in Hollywood faced, Lupita reiterated why it is powerful when women have a voice, and that those in a position of influence like she is have a duty to speak for others who cannot.

“What I am most interested in now is combating the shame we go through that keeps us isolated and allows for harm to continue to be done. I wish I had known that there were women in the business I could have talked to. I wish I had known that there were ears to hear me. That justice could be served. There is clearly power in numbers. I thank the women who have spoken up and given me the strength to revisit this unfortunate moment in my past,” she said.

“I hope we can form a community where a woman can speak up about abuse and not suffer another abuse by not being believed and instead being ridiculed. That’s why we don’t speak up — for fear of suffering twice, and for fear of being labeled and characterized by our moment of powerlessness. Though we may have endured powerlessness at the hands of Harvey Weinstein, by speaking up, speaking out and speaking together, we regain that power,” she concluded.

She is no stranger to using her voice to advocate for not only important issues, but to create visibility for other women, especially those like her who have felt ignored or sidelined by the industry. Since winning her Oscar she has regularly spoken about the need for more diversity, and now that the Harvey Weistein scandal has exposed the insidious misogynistic power structure that sadly still exists in Hollywood, perhaps the need for diversity in all areas goes beyond just what we see in front of the carmera. In a recent interview with The Times, Lupita said she wanted to expand audiences’ understanding of the African identity on screen.

As one of only a few black women to win an Oscar for acting, she is perfectly positioned to talk abut diversity and why it is important in Hollywood. She grew up living in both Mexico and Kenya, before moving to the US to study and pursue an acting career. In 2014 she was chosen to be the face of Lancome which is a major step forward for diversity in the beauty industry where the default has for too long been imagery that promotes Euro-centric standards.

She explained to The Times she feels she has a specific purpose through her on-screen career that will hopefully create more opportunities for others.

“I definitely feel that my mandate on this earth is to expand our understanding of African identity…I want to play women of all walks of life and all places, not just African roles. But, by default, whatever woman I play will be black, and in so doing, it will be expanding our understanding of what that experience is — because it’s not a singular experience,” she said.

Lupita played the role of Harriet in Disney’s ‘The Queen of Katwe’, based on the true story of a young Ugandan girl named Phiona Mutesi who became a chess champion. Staying within the Disney family, Lupita also voiced the character of the mother wolf Raksha in ‘The Jungle Book’, and most notably plays the role of CGI character Maz Kanata in the latest ‘Star Wars’ installments.

Like many other women in Hollywood who are stepping into their power as leaders and creators, realizing that producing their own films and TV shows is the best way to change the status quo in Hollywood, Lupita is creating opportunities for herself and other underrepresented voices. She has optioned the rights to feminist Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s best-selling novel ‘Americanah’, which we cannot wait to see on the big screen.

Again, going back to explosive revelations about sexual harassment in Hollywood (which has also affected some high profile men) women taking back the power and not having their careers held hostage by men in positions who will abuse their privilege is going to make a difference in the long run. After what Harvey Weinstein tried to do with Lupita’s career, we’re not surprised she is creating her own opportunities behind the camera.

And of course Marvel fans will get to see Lupita play Nakia in the upcoming ‘Black Panther’ movie, to be released in February 2018, the first feature film about a black superhero from the studio. It is not a real African country, but the fictional land of Wakanda will enable Lupita to again expand her definition of the African Identity on screen.

The next ‘Star Wars’ installment ‘The Last Jedi’, is set for a December 15, 2017 release date and will see Maz Kanata back on the big screen. Lupita says her fame has enabled her to now choose the types of roles she wants to play.

You can see a glimpse of Lupita in the ‘Black Panther’ trailer below, which also Danai Gurira, Michael B. Jordan, Angela Bassett, Sterling K. Brown, and Chadwick Boseman as the titular character:

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