Vanity Fair Gets Racist With Their Dramatic Lightening Of Lupita Nyong’o's Complexion


Vanity Fair smartly decided to feature the undeniably fantastic Lupita Nyong’o in their upcoming February issue, capitalizing on the huge moment she’s having in the media and fangirl hearts everywhere. When they proudly tweeted a photo preview of Nyong’o's photo spread, it took about two minutes for the internet to notice that Nyong’o's skin was curiously different from its usual hue–it was in fact noticeably lighter than in real life. What. The. Actual. Shit.

Here’s the Vanity Fair photo:

Here’s Nyong’o in real life.

BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 12: Actress Lupita Nyong'o attends the 71st Annual Golden Globe Awards cocktail party held at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 12, 2014 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

And here’s a smattering of responses:

Is this a freaking joke? Nyong’o is everywhere nowadays and a frequent guest in this year’s conversation about race and representation of non-white people in Hollywood/the media (excellently discussed here). There wasn’t really a chance that people were going to look at that photo and be like “oh yes, that is was Lupita Nyong’o looks like, because I have forgotten despite seeing her every time I open my computer or turn on my television.”

Vanity Fair will likely make the argument that it was lighting and not lightening–that is to say that instead of ordering some photoshopper to lighten Nyong’o's skin, they’ll pretend that the light in the room blew her out. Sure–I’ll bite. Maybe the room was lit in such a way that it created that image, but why the hell would they light it that way in the first place? It’s not like they’re shooting on film and only found out days later once they got around to developing–the feedback is instant and someone in the room would have immediately been able to figure out that Nyong’o's skin tone was completely off. In an industry where every single detail is manipulated to be perfect, it just isn’t possible that everyone fell down on the job and forgot that her skin tone was totally off. There’s just not a chance that this was an accident.

This is straight up bullshit, and shame on Vanity Fair for pulling this shit we’ve seen so all too often. To perpetuate an idea that the most flattering picture of a black actress is one where her blackness is altered is straight up racist, and if you don’t see that, then you’re frankly part of the problem. Vanity Fair is saying that Nyong’o is beautiful in spite of being black, which is racist garbage and inaccurate. Vanity Fair deserves all of the backlash coming to them, and it’s embarrassing for the world that this is something like this still happens regularly, and that despite all of the backlash, Vanity Fair will largely face no real consequences. Screw everything.

Photos: Twitter, Getty Images // [h/t Huffington Post]

Share This Post:
    • Lindsey Conklin

      I just don’t get it considering she’s way more beautiful before all the photoshop. It’s just never ending huh?

    • Alfreda Wells Morrissey

      It kind of looks like she is an animation. She always seems to reflect light on one cheekbone and forehead on the left side and it looks like they tried to mitigate that, but it looks like a pencil crayon drawing where you shade and then rub with your finger to blur. Does not look like a photograph. She has such amazing muscle tone in her arms.

    • Mandie

      I had to go back and look at her Dazed cover before getting upset. She looks so gorgeous on Dazed and it makes the VF lightening really, really obvious. Also, holy bicep crush, Batman.

      • Char

        Her perfect dark skin is one of the things that makes Lupita so gorgeous
        and able to wear such bold and bright colors on the red carpet without
        looking like she’s trying too hard to be noticed. I just googled that fabulous Dazed cover and you are correct, it makes Vanity Fair’s photoshop tomfoolery even more glaring.

      • Julie

        Her skin was darkened on the Dazed cover…….

      • a567and8

        Did you see her color on the Golden Globes awards? She was dark….and beautiful. Something a LOT of people don’t think is possible.

    • Porkchop

      It’s not easy to make dark skin look that light against a backdrop of metallic white balloons.

      • nogeeksadmin

        You have that backwards, Porky.

    • AJ

      whoever posted this to try and make an issue out of nothing should be ashamed. anyone who knows lighting and shoots video/phoots knows this is not a case of trying to lighten her skin. There is a difference. This effect is used in magazines often, This is a lighting issue not a lightening issue. Dark skin can be radiant if lit properly like any other skin tone.

      • Jano

        I disagree. I worked as a photographer for years and studied it at university (photojournalism and studio photography). There’s absolutely a (fairly basic) way of lighting darker-skinned models or darker subjects in a way that doesn’t make it appear as an entirely different colour and tone altogether. If a second-year photography student can do it, a professional certainly can as well. Which is kind of the point. It’s a deliberate choice to create a photo (in studio and in post) that would lighten her skin colour this drastically. Her skin isn’t just “radiant” in the photo, it’s quite a few shades lighter and an entirely different tone.

      • KathleenCat

        I think she looks pretty radiant in all the candids on this page, though. So, they didn’t need to light her any special way to make her radiant as she clearly is naturally radiant.
        Professional people at this level shouldn’t just be “this is white person lighting, and this is black person lighting” they should be able to gauge how to light an individual of any skin color.
        Oh, and if it were just lighting, it wouldn’t give her an unnatural CGI look.

    • Ola

      Speaking frankly I think the author of the article has issues around race that go much deeper that a picture from vanity fair.

      • crazygemini12

        Like being tired of racism?

    • jgrant

      Does ANYONE look the color they came up with for Vanity Fair? It looks more like a lipstick shade than a skin tone. Or maybe they’re touting her for a remake of THE COLOR PURPLE and don’t get what the novel was actually about.

    • KathleenCat

      It’s almost like they sent the photos off to be finished by someone who never saw her before and never worked with a picture of a dark-skinned black woman before and didn’t know what to do.

      And, considering how the media can be, that sadly probably isn’t too far off from what happened.

    • AriD2385

      I think there’s a way in which people can victimize someone unnecessarily. Lupita looks lovely, wonderful even, on the cover. I get trying to hold Vanity Fair accountable, but I don’t think Lupita was done a disservice by the cover. Lots of brown-skinned people look lighter depending upon the lighting. I don’t think they *had* to adjust anything to make sure she looked exactly her shade in normal light. So she looks lighter here. And? Regardless of VF’s intentions, simply celebrating Lupita’s beauty and the fact that it’s being celebrated will do more to combat the dominance of Eurocentric standards than anything else.

      • a567and8

        This is brain-addled, American nonsense! For decades the only glamorous photos of African-American women out of Hollywood were photos of Lena Horne! Whose skin was lightened also!!!!! White folks just can’t get over themselves……and all that not-really-white skin is not all that beautiful, or else white women wouldn’t pile on tons of make-up that darkens their skin!!!!!!!!

      • nogeeksadmin

        Oh shut up.

      • a567and8

        And f _ _ _ u 2.

      • nogeeksadmin

        No! seriously. Just shut the fuck up.

      • a567and8

        Yazzuh, massa bo’!

      • a567and8

        Increase your vocabulary and brain capacity. Or do you sit on a throne?

      • nogeeksadmin

        You’re a jackass.

    • Pooh

      I dont get it? She is in a room full of things that bounce light off and at her…its a stunning picture and it doesnt appear to be lightened as much as overlit…from a Photography standpoint…they do this to models a LOT…Beyonce isn’t BRIGHT white either but she comes across SUPER light in a lot of her shoots..and she’s nicely caramel. Yes you would think it would be hard to make dark skin light…but yes in the right setting with white light bouncing off the skin…this is the appearance. You can also do it by overexposing yourself using a regular camera and a bright light. I do it to hide excessive blemishes so that a lot of “photoshopping” doesnt have to be done.

    • Love Heals

      Wow! Is she really 30 yrs? She would look 25 at 40. What a gorgeous lady !

    • a567and8

      What bull _ _ _ _ is this! Why! Why! Why! Get the right lighting, backdrop, and gown and shoot the beautiful photos! She does NOT need to be closer to “white” folks in color! You don’t see the vanity, arrogance, condescension, denigration in these photos? Or… you………………………ohhhhhhhh, my god…..

    • Diani07

      I (a black woman) thinks it’s racist to think it’s racist. Who cares? It’s just shades of color. She’s gorgeous at any hue.

      • a567and8

        Whether or not it’s “racist” is a long discussion. It is definitely insulting.

      • a567and8

        Yes, she is gorgeous at any hue! But why exactly is her color changed so much? Look at all the many photos of her now being taken on red carpets everywhere. They’re normal everyday photos. This is not only an issue of race but it’s a feminist issue: Why do women have to have weight photoshopped off, boobs “enhanced”, hair brilliantined. It’s ridiculous.

    • A retoucher

      This is ridiculous. The lighting set up is stylistically bright. Whoever you put in that set up would appear to have lighter skin. I don’t think making her skin lighter was the overriding concept of this shoot. People who know actually nothing about the technicalities of a profession should find out more about what they don’t understand before demanding apologies for supposed rubbish. Her skin would have come through to the retoucher much lighter than it is naturally anyway. That is the nature of a bright photo set. The retoucher will have added highlights further yes, but that is part of fashion retouching whoever you work on, whatever the shade of their skin. It helps to illuminate the skin and remove blemishes. The dazed shoot is gorgeous also, but they have gone for a completely different style that requires different techniques (in this case darkening her skin..). Comparison is ridiculous. JEES.

    • Jordan Garcia

      You are ridiculous! actually the problem with discrimination is because of people like you! I am white and I did not notice her skin color change until you pointed it out! SHAME ON YOU for making us see that there is a difference…! so there is a specific shade of black that falls within your acceptable “shade for a black girl to be black enough?” You are pathetic for writing this post…for making us see that there are different shades of black….when in fact any shade of black, light or dark, is beautiful! Your post is an embarrassment.

      • Julia Sonenshein

        Do you want to go on a date sometime?

      • a567and8

        You deserve each other!

      • Flo

        WTF are you talking about?? There are MANY shades of Black people, the issue here is that someone saw fit to “lighten” this woman’s skin for creative/artistic purposes. Since you are white, I’ll assume you know nil to very little about colorism within the Black community. It is a source of major contention among all factions b/c of its alarming notions of subverting the Blacker skinned among us out of shame. Many Blacks opt to use skin bleachers, shots etc to make themselves lighter (which they equate with more acceptable in white culture). The blatant changing of Ms. N’Yong’o's skin tone to a noticeably lighter shade is an affront to all of us who appreciate our melanin.

      • a567and8

        “SHAME ON YOU for making us see…” That’s what it’s always been about. It’s why Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, to make YOU see. And Lincoln said, facetiously, when he met Ms. Stowe, “So, you’re the little lady who started this war.” He knew that was what was being said by her. It wasn’t the fact that the South didn’t believe in republicanism, nor racial equality, nor one man one vote. Shame on US for getting our heads beaten to show you that segregation was rooted in violence and ran rampantly against everything the Constitution supposedly stands for. “SHAME on you for making us see….” The quote of the day!!!!! You have been miseducated, fellow citizen.

      • a567and8

        “SHAME ON YOU for making us see that there is a difference. …” I couldn’t have written a better critique! If you don’t SEE, there is no problem. Right? That’s what it’s always been about. It’s why Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”: to make you SEE. And Lincoln knew that. When he met Ms. Stowe, he facetiously said, “So, you’re the little lady who started this war.” He knew that was what was being said about her. It wasn’t the fact that the South didn’t believe in republicanism, nor racial equality, nor one man one vote. Nor the Constitution! It was because she made America SEE. The reason we workers in the Civil Rights Movement allowed ourselves to be spat upon and beaten FOR TRYING TO BUY A HAMBURGER was to reveal the violence and authoritarianism on which America based its attitudes. Shame on US for that too? Shame on Medgar Evers for helping Southern blacks vote. And shame on him for getting shot because: That made you SEE the violence Southern whites would visit on anyone making that effort! Do you see they’re doing it again by getting the Voting Rights Act gutted! “SHAME on you for making us see….” The quote of the day!!!!! You have been miseducated, fellow citizen. Another way of assuring that you do NOT see!

    • Nick D

      Elle did the same thing to Gabourey Sidibe. This is a reaction to a trend, not an overreaction to an isolated incident.

    • Jack_Kish

      “To perpetuate an idea that the most flattering picture of a black actress is one where her blackness is altered is straight up racist, and if you don’t see that, then you’re frankly part of the problem.”
      WTF?!?!?!?!??? Obviously you doesn’t understand what racism is and THAT is a big problem. High key photos of white and light people are all over the place but when a darker person is photographed in the same style you go on a rant because ……. hmmm ….. because dark skinned individuals have no business being portrayed in this manner?
      Here’s a news flash Julia. Color and tone is intentionally manipulated in editorial spreads. Google high key portrait and you’ll see a ton of paper white people. They’re not really that color. It’s just artistic licence. And just in case you didn’t know, people in B&W photos are not really gray.

      • Julia Sonenshein

        I have literally never seen another photo before in my life and also what is b&w? Is that a photo term?

      • a567and8

        I doubt it.

      • a567and8

        Thank you,

      • a567and8

        Thank you, Jack_Kish. Sad that the common sense you demonstrate needs an explanation!

    • stop playing the race-game

      I do not actually see what everyone is so worked up about. Looking at the photo from a photographic eye, all that appears to be done in this picture is to actually put forth effort to have Lupita Nyong’o's skin tone enhanced and have attention drawn to her chocolate color. The purpose of the full white background, and the beautiful white dress with nothing but white props- and that red lipstick and nail polish to boot- is to truly cause her complexion to POP. And it does. The VF portrait shot is a beautiful shot, and she looks dazzling.
      White is actually a tint that is only seen because of the light that reflects off of the surface- the darker the color- any color- from the blue of the ocean to the deep chocolate of her skin- is caused by the ability for light to reflect off of the object. The fact that she is surrounded by white- literally surrounded, is going to cause any light in the room to bounce off of her as well- thus giving the appearance of a lighter tone.

      Stop turning everything into a racist subject people. This picture is not racist- the people who think it is are.

      • a567and8

        B _ _ _ s _ _ _! Look at the history of African American images and you’ll see that they express the racism of the dominant group, not the actual physiognomy of the individuals!

      • a567and8

        What an intelligent insight! NOT! This is what was said back in the days when demonstrations against segregation started. The problem, we were told, was that we were engaging in upsetting behavior. If we’d just live life…..uh huh…This country is rapidly moving BACK in time!

      • a567and8

        “…enhanced…” Making her skin lighter ‘enhances’ it? C’mon…are you serious?

      • crazygemini12

        Ah…discussing race makes you racist. It was just a matter if time before this showed up, I guess. One good thing about racism: it’s predictable, so there are few surprises.

    • johnmiltonwesley

      The “airbrush” strikes again! First our history, now our face.

      • a567and8


    • Amexem

      Smh…please her hues are beautifu

    • Amexem

      I love it .. point blank who cares if others think shes too light #obama

      • a567and8

        If u don’t care why are you posting?

    • God-lessFulaniYiraX

      I don’t see an issue?

      • a567and8

        U should.

    • Elphaba

      Anyone who thinks Vanity Fair is gonna catch any real flack for this is dreaming. The editors are rubbing their hands right now at the all free publicity they’re getting for their vacuuous little rag. Topic of conversation this morning will be which skinny person they can make thinner and which young person they can make look younger. Recently a body image campaigner claimed that magazine and advertising sold us our dreams and lifestyle. They don’t! The only thing Vanity Fair is selling is Vanity Fair. Treat these magazines as anything other a waste of a good tree at your peril.

    • Michael Towns

      I just see this as a stylized photo. I would think differently if this were a Time or Forbes cover.

    • Geoff Paugam

      Making a picture lighter does NOT make you racist. Even “people of no color” get lightened in the post process. If you cannot tell Lupita is Black whether “lightened” or not, it’s time for an eye exam. Many celebrity pictures have “lightened” pictures on the internet, compare them. Google “Kim Kardashian” and look to see if her pictures haven’t been altered in some way…are they being “Racist” towards KimKar?

      • a567and8

        White folks don’t get lightened! They get darker! That’s why white women wear dark make-up and dark-skinned women often wear no make-up, just powder, or make-up close to their skin color. How would white women look if they applied make-up the color of their skin? Black woman don’t have to worry about that. The make-up they wear is already the color, or near the color, of their skin!

      • Geoff Paugam

        I don’t think Charlize Theron is this light.

    • Jer

      Why must we always make an issue of something that is not an issue. She is a beautiful woman on the cover of Vanity Fair!!! Enough said!!!!

    • Nehes Ba’a Rayay

      then take her picture AS IS!!! they’re always trying to reduce our GLORY!!! use the same technology you used in that ‘slave’ bullshit!!! :)

    • Crates

      Methinks you protest too much.

      • a567and8

        Not hardly enough.

    • jojo

      “racist” seems like a bit of an overreaction, and yes, I’m black. I think she’s stunningly gorgeous; this just seems like exaggerated lighting. to be honest, I really think special care needs to be taken when using the word “racist” – “racist” would’ve been not including her at all, or having her pose alongside some tribal effects. I think people are hyper sensitive – and given VF’s history of not even including people of color, that’s not altogether unjustified – when it comes to representations of blacks in media but “racist” is a strong, accusation. I also think this “to perpetuate an idea that the most flattering picture of a black actress is one where her blackness is altered is straight up racist, and if you don’t see that, then you’re frankly part of the problem.” is slightly over the top, if not flat out insulting. (Because, I don’t agree, I’m part of a problem? C’mon.) Two other questions – not having seen any other photos from this shoot, I have to ask, are other people similarly lightened? Photographers use special, dramatic lightening on subjects – of all colors – all the time. And then lastly, say the opposite had been done – she’d been darkened – would that be “racist” too? Raising the question about whether or not she’d been ‘lightened’ seems fair but “racist” – and making everybody out who disagrees to be some kind of idiot – is a bit harsh…

    • johnmiltonwesley

      Thanks a567and8.
      I just see no need to paint a rose bush.

    • Edgedeep

      Compared to her excellent portrait on the cover of Dazed & Confused, the Vanity Fair cover is weak.

    • LotusBud

      I think she is gorgeous.

    • somebodystolemynamefatboy

      Maybe it was the same lighting for everyone.