Alagi Yorro Jallow

When I watched the highly- acclaimed movie “12 Years a Slave” featuring Kenyan born Lupita Nyong’o actress overall, my view, analyzes, and criticism is centered on the depiction of slavery in commercial Hollywood films as well the portrayal of black actors and actresses play racialized stereotypes. The movie although is very insightful and emotional as an African.

I reflected on why black actors and actresses seem to only receive awards when they play dehumanizing roles or characters that have no redemption. I believe that, Lupita plays a sexualized and brutalized black female who, by the end of the film, has no hope of redemption. This is not to take anything away from Lupita’s acting; she is a highly-talented actress who, in my view, plays the part very well.

However, what is problematic is that Hollywood only awards black actors and actresses when they play racialized stereotypes: hyper-masculine roles for black actors and hyper-sexualized roles for black actresses.

Denzel Washington, for instance, has only won one Best Actor Academy Award for his role in Training Day, where he plays a violent and aggressive rogue cop. This is although he has given excellent performances in movies where he is playing more positive characters, including Book of Eli, Malcolm X, The Hurricane and many others.

Therefore, Lupita’s numerous awards from 12 Years a Slave must be critically assessed within Hollywood’s long history of racist representations of Africans.

In comparison to a movie, there’s a scene in the movie on “Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise” that Mshai Mwangola pointed me to Angelou tells the story of being on the set of “Poetic Justice,” and this young black man on the set was cursing like no tomorrow. She pulled him aside, and told him: do you know how great our people were? Do you know our people withstood slavery so that you could live today? He calmed down and cried. Later, Janet Jackson came to her and said: “I can’t believe you actually spoke to Tupac Shakur. No one has the guts to speak to him when he’s like that.

Maya Angelou once said that when she finally departs from this world, at least someone should know that she was here because she loved life and lived it to the fullest, never allowing the events in her life to control her nor allowing herself to be reduced by them. Indeed, many know that you were here! You have left a great legacy for many phenomenal women and through your life, taught many great lessons.