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Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity: Lupita Nyong’o


Lupita Nyong’o
Lupita Nyong’o is a woman who has been bringing the best stories to the screen since her breakout role in Twelve Years a Slave. She is an actress, director, producer, an author, and a master of untold stories, with her own unique one being the most inspiring of all.

In a session hosted by Meta’s Nicola Mendelsohn about storytelling and how platforms like Instagram’s Reels are allowing people everywhere to tell their stories, Lupita talks about finding new methods to build communities and how she flipped the script in Hollywood.

You seem to like bringing stories that haven’t been told historically on the silver screen. Do you think nowadays platforms like Reels are allowing people to tell theirs?
I definitely think that social media has put the power of storytelling in everybody’s hands in a way that their voices are unignored. I am indeed attracted to unfamiliar stories because I am part of a demographic that is underrepresented. Reels for example allow a multitude of perspectives and it disrupts an understanding of what is modern and trendy. People are given the chance to express what they are interested in a community that transcends national borders and cultural limitations.

And why are you intrigued by untold stories?
It’s imperative for us to open up to a multitude of stories. Human beings are the only animals who tell stories and that is our superpower and what makes us unique. So why should it be that a certain demographic of human beings has more access to storytelling than the other? What technology is doing is that it’s getting rid of these barriers which are important for projects like pursuing peace in the world, because it creates empathy amongst the population worldwide.

The Black Panther movie, with its all-black cast, has broken several records. How does its success make you feel?
I am extremely proud of it; we knew there was something special but we couldn’t have expected all that. It was a celebration of African culture and it pays homage to the truth. When the film came out, Hollywood realized that movies filled with black actors are actually profitable globally, it was like a wakeup moment for producers. These stories do attract spectators and the industry needs to shift from the idea that black movies don’t sell. Everyone wants a good story regardless of where it comes from. We are hungry to experience multiculturalism that showcases humanity.

Did you always feel that you belonged on the silver screen? And what were some of the challenges in Hollywood?
It wasn’t the silver screen that I believed I belonged to, I felt that I wanted to live in front of people and embody individuals other than myself, and to explore the world through them. When I first came to Hollywood it was with Twelve Years a Slave and it opened so many doors for me, I went from a nobody on the subway in New York to being on magazine covers. I felt isolated, and the stress of success isn’t always relatable by people around you. So, I worked on this and allowed myself to focus on my next chapter and give permission to fail, not just fixate on the big prize.
One of your projects Sulwe is a book about colorism…
Yes, this is my childhood wound. I grew up unhappy with my skin color. Everything around me, films and advertisements featured people with pale skin and they made me feel unvaluable because of my complexion. This is a long journey of self-acceptance and joy of who I am. A pivotal moment for me was seeing the super model Alek Wek from Sudan on runways and who had my dark skin. She was all over the world and she was on Oprah, who said that Alek was beautiful. This embracement was a validation to all of us dark-skinned women. I came up with a story to tell to young kids and to breed the self-value in children before the world gives its opinion.  

Let’s talk about marketing and on being the first black ambassador of Lancôme who is in constant contact with marketers
I am grateful to have this opportunity to be indirect contact with the people who shape our culture. The important thing about marketing to people of diverse backgrounds is to showcase that there is no mainstream versus diversity, and that the diversity is actually the majority. We need to engage people of these backgrounds in the conversation. I also feel that overemphasis on diversity is as uncomfortable to me as neglect. I don’t want my humanity to be taken out of the representation of my demographic.

With over 9 million Instagram followers, why is it important for you to be on social media?
With social media you get to hear from your fans and build on that, you guide your experience based on the reaction of your community. And it’s fun! I love to engage with my audience. I enjoy the accessibility. I like to follow people who introduce me to new things, people who are smarter than me or those who inspire me in different ways.

And what is your criteria for publishing a post?
I have three things I ask myself: is it true, is it funny and is it beautiful? If all three boxes are ticked, I go for it.

When it comes to fashion you were featured in the Miu Miu campaign and Anna Wintour chose you to be on the cover of Vogue US. How do you decide what to wear?
I am so glad that I don’t have a lot of childhood photos because I went through questionable fashion stages. But now I have the gift of time and experience, and a fantastic stylist, so I can’t take the full credits. But what I learned is I love blocked colors for example. I enjoy taking risks but I don’t follow fashion trends. I am more into style and clothes that stand the test of time.

And what’s up for you next?
A lot of my projects are wrapped up in secrecy, Blank Panther Two which just came out of course. I enjoy podcasts, so you might see me in that space too. And I would like to stay committed to telling aspirational and inspirational stories.

By Victor N.