Porter gets personal with the iconic Mexican- Kenyan actress who discusses driving change in Hollywood, empowering women, redressing beauty standards for people of colour, and why no one should dare touch her hair.
Photographed by Mario Sorrenti, Lupita is the epitome of desire as she poses for the cover in a vibrant red Gucci dress.
Read excerpts from the interview below:
On her Mother's influence: She shared a rough draft of her story with her mother, to whom she credits much of her success and who fully supported her op-ed. “I don’t underestimate how much she influenced who I am,” Nyong’o says, playing with the tiny gold elephant that hangs from the long, gold rope around her neck. (She loves elephants, which are, of course, native to her home country, and supports NGOs fighting to protect them from hunting, poaching and habitat loss.)
“I come from a very patriarchal world, but not within my family. My dad listened to my mom. My mom held her own. There was never a sense of her deflecting from my father. She had the power to say no to things, and I saw her hold that power.”
On what her hair means to her: “My hair is something that, historically, has been shunned,” she says. “I mean, how often do you hear, ‘You can’t get a job with hair like that’?” I ask if that’s still true. “Oh, yes,” she says. “Natural, African, kinky hair – it’s often been painted as uncivilized or wild.”
On Instagram, she added to her initial post, writing, “Being featured on the cover of a magazine fulfills me, as it is an opportunity to show other dark, kinky-haired people, and particularly our children, that they are beautiful just the way they are.”
On breaking boundaries in the beauty industry: Nyong’o became the first black woman to represent Lancôme after signing a major endorsement deal in 2014, representing a shift for the brand toward what she diplomatically described at the time as “the idea that beauty should not be dictated, but should instead be an expression of a woman’s freedom to be herself.”
Her recent Calvin Klein campaign, for its new fragrance, Women, sees her pictured alongside two female icons, chosen by Nyong’o for their influence on her – Katharine Hepburn and Eartha Kitt. “By defying their times, they defined their times,” she says. “I want to emulate that.”
On avoiding the Oscar's curse: After winning an Academy Award for her 12 Years a Slaveperformance in 2014, she became terrified by the supposed Oscars curse, when winners see their careers plummet. “I remember sitting in a pitch meeting for some comedy show. They said, ‘What if we do a skit about what’s going to happen to Lupita? And then we have you go down all the wrong roads all other Oscar winners before you have gone down.’ I said, ‘That’s my nightmare. There is nothing funny about that.’”
She shakes her head, laughing quietly. “I got so many offers for slave roles,” she continues, rolling her eyes. “I didn’t want to do any of them. I did not want to be pigeon-holed.” She found the pressure of deciding what to do next intense. “There’s that thing: ‘You gotta catch your wind! This is your moment!’ It’s suddenly all about what people expect you to do.” So she retreated, and took time to listen to just herself.