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Actress Spotlight: Lupita Nyong’o- An Underrepresented Beauty

January 4, 2014

By Nathaniel Simons, The Africa Channel


If you’ve been keeping up with entertainment news, you’ll know that there’s a star gaining steam for her role in one of this year’s most acclaimed films.  She’s now a 2014 Screen Actors Guild Award nominee, a 2014 Golden Globe nominee, and her Oscar prospects seem almost cemented.  So just who exactly is Lupita Nyong’o, how did her turn as Patsey in Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave come about, and what type of impact will her trajectory have on the entertainment industry?

Born in Mexico City to Kenyan parents, Lupita knew she wanted to act from the age of five.  The now 30-year-old actress attended Hampshire College for undergrad, majoring in Film and African Studies.  One of her first jobs out of school was working as a PA on 2002’s The Constant Gardener, starring Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz.  In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, she mentioned how the experience taught her to recognize the importance of an actor’s space.  Nyong’o later booked the title role of Ayira in the MTV miniseries Shuga (also featured on The Africa Channel).  The show, commissioned by AIDS relief organizations, chronicled the lives of young, attractive Africans experiencing the realities of sexual relationships.

After Shuga, Nyong’o gained acceptance to the Yale School of Drama, where she starred in numerous plays, including The Taming of the Shrew, The Winter’s Tale and Uncle Vanya.  Nearing the end of her graduate program, she had the opportunity to audition for 12 Years a Slave, a film adaptation of the real-life autobiography of Solomon Northup, a free man sold into slavery.  The specific role she auditioned for was Patsey, a hard-working slave who became the object of her master’s eye.  But the role required some intense chops.  Casting director Francine Maisler stated in an interview with Backstage that “One of the most challenging roles to cast was Patsey, because they were looking for so many qualities in the part.  Patsey is a young slave who draws the special attention of her owner and who Northup does his best to protect under the circumstances.”  In numerous interviews, Nyong’o admits that she didn’t think that she would ever get the part, having just completed school, but director Steve McQueen was convinced otherwise.  And the rest is history.


But where did Lupita get her desire to take on such an intense role?  In an interview for Vogue’s video series, The Backstory (above), she shared that the film The Color Purple catalyzed her desire to become an actress.  “What really did it for me was watching The Color Purple, when I saw Whoopi and she looked like me.  And I was like, I could do this for a living,” stated Nyong’o.

Lupita’s place in the entertainment industry is an important one, as her dark skin highlights the type of look that rarely seizes the spotlight.  Her beauty has captured the attention of magazines such as People, Vogue, Glamour and DuJour (she’s their January cover girl).  On a larger scale, the authenticity of who she is has the potential to break barriers.  She addressed this in a recent interview with Yahoo’s Omg! Insider.  “I know I am representing an underrepresented group of women, being dark skinned and having short natural hair, and I’m happy to be that for them,” stated Nyong’o.

Lupita’s trajectory is just starting, but we’re confident she’ll continue to open the dialogue of what it means to be a black woman and also inspire through her creative endeavors. 

Have you seen 12 Years a Slave?  How were you affected by the film and Lupita’s performance?

Backstage: Francine Maisler

The Hollywood Reporter: Actress Roundatable


Twitter: @NathanielSimons


(Photo Credit: DuJor Magazine/Imdb)


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