Sunday , August 14 2022
On the Joys of Seeing Keke Palmer Win

On the Joys of Seeing Keke Palmer Win

She’ll be here…any second now, she’ll be here, I think, seated in the dark theater. I know I’m not the only one waiting for her; besides the rest of the audience, there’s also everyone in the actual movie. On screen, a production crew, director, and even Daniel Kaluuya, in character as OJ Haywood, are all itching for her to appear.

After a brief silence, boom! She swings the studio door open and runs to her mark. There she is, Keke Palmer, standing front and center on the theater screen. And there I am, on the opening night of Nope, looking at her and going, as I have so many times before: “Yep, she’s going to nail this.” And nail it she did.

The first time I remember seeing Palmer on screen, I was sitting on a hardwood floor, staring up at one of those old-school projection televisions that stood as tall as I did as a seven-year-old. My aunt, who was babysitting me at the time, slipped a disc into the DVD player to keep me occupied, but little could she know how Akeelah and the Bee, and that film’s young lead actress, would stay with me. Alongside actors like Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne, I saw Palmer playing a smart, determined Black girl defying all odds and making her mark on the world. And from her family and her mentors to her braids and wire-framed glasses, I recognized my own life, even as a mixed-race Black and Filipino girl. As I watched her on screen, I saw myself.

When you’re a kid, you never actually wonder, Can I see myself being a doctor, or a writer, or a painter? Sometimes you just see someone you look up to do something, and you say, “Well, if she can do it, I can do it.” It’s not that I wanted to be Keke Palmer; it’s just that when I saw her in a role, I believed I could do it, too.

Keke Palmer and Angela Bassett in Akeelah and the Bee, 2006.Photo: Lions Gate/Courtesy Everett Collection

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