Lupita Nyong’o talks about her hair, Black Panther and FAME

by Miz Tee

Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o covered the March 2018 issue of Allure magazine.

Speaking to Allure Magazine’s editor in chief Michelle Lee, the Kenyan-Mexican actress opened up about her hair, role in Black Panther and how fame has changed her.

On how she felt about her hair when growing up, Lupita said:

I didn’t love my hair when I was a child. It was lighter than my skin, which made me not love it so much. I was really kind of envious of girls with thicker, longer, more lush hair. In my tween years, I started begging my mother to have my hair relaxed. She wouldn’t allow it, though her hair was relaxed.

She felt that that was a decision I could come to when I was maybe 18. Around 13 or 14, I had such a rough time with being teased and feeling really unpretty. My dad intervened and spoke to my mom about my hair, and she finally agreed.

She took me to the salon in the middle of the school day, and I got my hair relaxed. I felt so much better because it was easier to tame. All the girls in my class had their hair relaxed. Very few had natural kink, so I felt a lot more acceptable.

I had my hair relaxed for most of my teenage years, and that was a whole other world. The upkeep of relaxed hair is a commitment. It took styling it once a week and then having it retouched once a month. I remember doing crazy things, like sleeping with my head above the headboard so that my curls wouldn’t get messed up for the next day. I’d have these terrible neck aches because I was determined to keep my hair as pristine as possible. And it was super expensive.

When I was about 18 or 19, I didn’t have a job or anything, so it was really my parents paying for my hair.

So I was once asking for some more money to get my hair done and my dad joked, “Why don’t you just cut it all off?”

And a few months later, I thought to myself, Why don’t I? I went into the hair salon, and I said, “Let’s cut it off.”

It was almost a dare to myself: Can I live without hair? He shaved it right off. It was so scary but so liberating because I went completely bald.

Allure: Did your mother know you were going to do it?

Lupita: No, I didn’t tell anybody except for my hairdresser. When I got home, my mother was horrified. She was just like, “What have you done to my hair?”

I remember her saying that: “I’ve been growing that hair since you were born — how can you?”

Then I felt really self-conscious. It was hard to see the horror on my mother’s face. She was so disapproving, and I was so sensitive about it at the time, that I started to get scared that I had done the wrong thing.

And it was cold. All of a sudden I would feel really cold on my head, and I didn’t have hats or the right headwear for a bald head.

Eventually my mom came around. I remember once when I was dressed up for church, she actually said, with a very quick mouth, “You look nice.”

Allure: Aw, that’s nice.

Lupita: That was so good to hear. It took my dad probably two weeks to notice I had no hair! At breakfast, he looked up and said, “Hey, where is your hair?”

I said, “You said I should cut it.”

He just burst out laughing. He was like, “I didn’t mean take it all off.”

We had a good laugh about it. That was definitely a liberating stage. I had nothing to hide behind.

I had my hair short for a very long time after that.

Allure: Let’s talk a little bit about Black Panther. When you were working on the movie, did you sense that everybody knew this would be a history-making movie?

Lupita: Yes. When [director] Ryan [Coogler] approached me to be in it, he walked me through what he was thinking the story would be about.

I remember him finishing his spiel and me being like, “And this is a Marvel movie?” And him being like, “Yeah.”

And I was like, “And they said you could make this? Have they green-lighted this idea of yours?”

And he was like, “Yeah, I can’t believe it.”

And I was like, “Whoa, that is next level.”

On set, it was just such an inspirational experience because so much thought was put into this film, and every single aspect of it was rich and beautiful and just arresting, actually.

To see this aspirational African world that actually becomes an example for the whole wide world was spellbinding. We were all very much aware that we were in something extremely special.

Allure: You’re in massive blockbusters — Star Wars and now a Marvel movie. Has fame changed you at all?

Lupita: Well, I have to be just more cautious in public spaces. That’s a big change. What fame does is there is an illusion of familiarity that is cast into the world.

So it’s about negotiating with that illusion because oftentimes you encounter people who have encountered you, but you haven’t encountered them. It’s a little weird to find your footing. I have to be aware of that possibility, not imprisoned by it. It’s like, how do I find freedom within that awareness?

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