#OpinionPiece: What Defines An African? (The Lupita Nyong’o Academy Award Saga)

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In celebrating SA’s Women’s Day (09 August 2017), we ran a social media campaign tagged #AllEyesOnWomen and the sole purpose of this feature was to shine the spotlight on African women who have achieved great milestones in their respective career paths.

With that said, one particular tweet that we posted was met with mixed reactions and therefore compelled us to continue the conversation by writing an opinion piece about ‘What Defines An African. ‘

The twitter post in question is the one on which we recognised movie star Lupita Nyong’o as being the first African actress to win an Academy Award®, for her career defining role in the movie ’12 Years A Slave’. The reactions, retweets and replies that we received sparked a debate about who was really the FIRST African Actor / Actress to win an Oscar®.

Throngs of tweeps felt that South African actress Charlize Theron was the first African to win the award for ‘Monster’ , whilst others said screen-writer and director, Mark Peploe was originally the first African to win an Academy Award® for Best Adapted Screenplay (The Last Emperor) .

Therefore, the big question is: ‘What Defines An African?’

There are a myriad of answers to this question and opinions tend to vary when it comes to this particular subject. Considering the nitty gritties that need to be taken in to account such as country of birth, etchnic background and of course, human race; one might argue that these factors are critical when dissecting the topic of being African.

Let’s take a look at how all 3 creative individuals fare when it comes to their African roots:

Lupita Nyong’o

Lupita Nyong’o was born in Mexico to Kenyan parents, but was raised in Kenya. Nyong’o has lived most of her life in the United States of America where she also obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in Film and Theatre studies from Hampshire College. Lupita identifies as Kenyan-Mexican and has a dual Kenyan and Mexican citizenship. Taking the preceding statement into consideration, does she qualify to be labelled ‘Mexican-African’ or rather ‘Kenyan-Mexican?’

Charlize Theron

Hollywood actress Charlize Theron was born in Benoni, a small town situated in the East Rand of Johannesburg, South Africa. Her ethnic background comprises of Afrikaner, French and German. At the age of 13, Charlize began her studies at the National School of the Arts in Johannesburg, shortly thereafter she moved overseas. Currently, Charlize resides in Los Angeles in the United States of America and is a neutralized American citizen whilst also retaining her South African citizenship. Is Charlize ‘African-American?’

Mark Peploe

Screen-writer and director, Mark Peploe was born in Kenya but spent most of his formative years between Italy and England. Peploe studied at the University of Oxford in England , where he currently works and resides. Does this make him ‘African-European?’

Whichever way one looks at this topic, the reality is that all 3 individuals have a somewhat strong African background which we cannot shy away from. Whether by birthright or other, the fact remains…they are undeniably AFRICAN and we are proud of them.

In light of this opinion piece, the inspiration behind it was the feedback (and backlash) we got from tweeps who felt we were wrong and unjust for posting Lupita as the first African actress to win an Oscar®.

Below are some of the responses that we got:

Well…the tweeps have spoken, what is your take on ‘What Defines An African?’