Lupita Nyong’o won the Best Supporting Actress in the 2014 Oscars for the film, 12 Years a Slave, but her journey has been a long and inspiring one.
Lupita Nyong’o was born in Mexico City in 1983 to Peter and Dorothy Anyang’ Nyong’o and is the second child among six siblings. During Lupita’s birth, her parents were in political exile and were only able to return to their home country, Kenya while Lupita was still a child.
Later, Lupita’s father joined Kenya’s senate while her mother, who previously worked in the Family Planning department became a leading figure of the Africa Cancer Foundation. Lupita Nyong’o identifies herself as a Mexican-Kenyan.
Lupita Nyong’o had taken to drama studies early in her career and consequently obtained the leading role in Romeo and Juliet, produced by Phoenix Players, a Nairobi based repertory. She also returned to Mexico for a while to learn Spanish.
Her college education was in the Hampshire College, Amherst, Massachusetts in the United States. She completed her degree in 2003. When Lupita returned to Kenya during the summer vacations, she chanced upon the filming of The Constant Gardener.
This is where she met Ralph Fiennes and joined the team as a production assistant. Ralph was the first inspiration of her life who asked her to choose acting as a career only if she couldn’t imagine a life without it.
Nyong’o was brought up with an appreciation for art, where family get-togethers were often accompanied by trips to watch performances.
Apart from The Constant Garner, Lupita had also been a part of internationally acclaimed productions like The Namesake, by Mira Nair, and Where God Left his Shoes by Salvatore Stabile.
Her film career started with East River, a 2008 short film directed by Marc Grey. After that she had returned to Kenya to shoot a number of television series including Shuga, a drama about HiV/AIDS, produced by MTV Base Africa and UNICEF. In 2009, she came up with In My Genes – a documentary which she wrote, produced and directed. This film received the first prize at Five College Film Festival.
Lupita Nyong’o subsequently applied for the master’s degree program at Yale School of Drama and appeared in dozens of productions that include The Taming of the Shrew, The Winter’s Tale, Uncle Vanya and Doctor Faustus Lights the Lights. During the 2011-12 academic year, she was the winner of the prestigious Herschel Williams Prize at Yale University.
But it was her role as the Patsey in her first feature film role in Steve McQueen’s historical drama 12 Years a Slave (2013), that won her the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, among numerous other awards and nominations.
More recently, Lupita has been much lauded for her views on racism and the western perceptions of beauty. It’s a valuable lesson for Indian women caught in the trap of believing that a dark complexion is less beautiful than a fair one.
Here’s hoping that seeing Lupita as an icon of beauty on their screens will make all women more comfortable in their own skin and more accepting of the shade they were born with.
Watch Lupita’s speech about her struggle with her dark complexion at Black Beauty Essence magazine and be inspired by her revelations.