Lupita Nyong'o talks to Jimmy Fallon about her children's book Sulwe, where the protagonist is a little girl who prays for lighter skin. The Kenyan Mexican actress opened up about her struggles with colorism and how she learned to love herself.

By Lena Hansen
October 09, 2019

Oscar winner Lupita Nyong'o — the star of 12 Years a Slave, Black Panther and Star Wars, among other films — shined Monday on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. The Kenyan Mexican actress, 36, laughed when Fallon pointed out she is mentioned in the lyrics of the Beyoncé hit “Brown Skin Girl” and featured as a model in the Jay-Z music video “Manyfacedgod.”

“I love the Carters and they seem to love me. I'm not mad,” she joked. The actress revealed she also raps under the alter ego of “Troublemaker” and made a hilarious demonstration, wearing black shades and rapping on the mic while Fallon watched her in awe. “I'm a one-hit wonder!” she joked. “I feel like in my past life, I'm supposed to be a rapper, but I'm not, so I do it for fun.”

Nyong'o, who also stars in the horror film Us and the horror comedy Little Monsters, talked about her debut as a children's book author with Sulwe.

“This is basically about you, right?” Fallon asked about the book. “Yeah, it's a liberal autobiography. It's about a girl called Sulwe. ‘Sulwe' means star in my mother tongue Luo, and she is born the darkest in her family and the darkest in her school. She is very uncomfortable with her skin and wants to go about changing it, but then a magical night through the night sky changes her mind and she learns how to love herself,” she said.

She said that the character is based on some experiences she had as a child. “I gave a speech at Essence Women of Hollywood back in 2014 about my journey with dealing with colorism and prejudice and all that, and one of the things I spoke about is I would pray to God every night for lighter skin. My mom told me, ‘God performs miracles,' so I thought, ‘Oh, well. Here is one for me! Give me some light skin.' Like, I had a younger sister who was much lighter. So every morning I would wake up and run to the mirror and see whether he'd answered my prayer and I would always be so disappointed. That's one of the things that Sulwe does in the book.”

The actress hopes the book has a positive and transforming effect on readers. “It's also for people who don't know about colorism to get to know about it. It's a mirror for dark-skinned girls to see themselves, specifically because I didn't have that growing up and I wanted to use the pain that I felt for it to be my weapon, my gift,” she said. “Also for other people who may not know, I hope this book is a window to understanding what people that may not be like you can go through. But ultimately the message is that the most important thing is to love yourself before anything else.”