On the Joys of Seeing Keke Palmer Win

On the Joys of Seeing Keke Palmer Win

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“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 kid. 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 and 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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