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Lupita Nyong'o

The multi-talented Lupita Nyong’o feels like no other performer of her generation. Able to pivot from Oscar-winning historical dramas to the Marvel Cinematic Universe to horror films to broad comedies, the acting range of Lupita Nyong’o is arguably unmatched in her field right now. She ended 2019 earning awards again, this time for her work in Jordan Peele’s “Us,” for which Lupita Nyong’o was named the Best Actress of the year by the New York Film Critics Circle.

Lupita Amondi Nyong’o was born on March 1, 1983 in Mexico City, where her father Peter was teaching, but she quickly moved to Kenya, where she was raised from the age of one, and led to her Spanish name. She moved to the United States to go to college, and studied at Hampshire College, earning a degree in film and theater studies from the school, although she actually returned to Kenya then and began her career in her home country, starring on a TV series there called “Shuga,” which ran on MTV in 40 different countries in Africa. She worked as a production assistant early in her career too, doing work on “The Constant Gardener” and “The Namesake,” among others. She also directed a documentary in this phase of her career called “In My Genes” which is about the albino population in Kenya.

After leaving “Shuga,” Nyong’o decided to get a Master’s Degree in Acting from the Yale School of Drama, appearing in multiple stage productions there and even winning an award called the Hershel Williams Prize. She graduated from there in 2013 and immediately jumped into her breakthrough role, a part that would win her an Oscar for her first film.

In Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave,” Lupita Nyong’o plays Patsey, a slave who works on the same plantation as Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Solomon Northup. Acclaim for her daring, brilliant work in the film was universal. She was nominated by nearly every awards-giving group that year and rode the wave of acclaim and the film’s winning the Oscar for Best Picture to an Academy Award herself, becoming the first African actress ever to win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.

Major roles would follow for the rest of the decade, including parts in two of its biggest franchises. In 2015, Lupita Nyong’o joined the Star Wars universe by playing Maz Kanata in “Star Wars, Episode VII: The Force Awakens,” although her part was mostly CGI.

Lupita Nyong’o never gave up her love for the stage and returned to it quickly in 2015’s Eclipsed, which co-starred Danai Gurira, with whom she would also star in “Black Panther.” For her work in the play, Nyong’o won the Obie Award when it was Off-Broadway, which helped it move to Broadway, becoming the first Broadway show with an all-black and all-female cast and crew. She reportedly turned down major roles in the wake of the Oscar to make this landmark event possible.

Lupita Nyong’o came roaring back into Hollywood with a series of major and minor films starting with 2016’s “The Jungle Book,” in which she voiced Raksha for director Jon Favreau’s live-action remake of the Disney classic. Later that year, she gave one of her best performances to date in Mira Nair’s “Queen of Katwe,” the true story of a Ugandan girl who became one of the most famous chess masters in the world. It was her first live-action role since winning the Oscar.

A pair of gigantic blockbusters followed in Rian Johnson’s divisive “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” in which Nyong’o briefly reprised Maz Kanata, and then the biggest comic book movie of all time, “Black Panther” at the start of 2018. In Ryan Coogler’s eventual Oscar winner, Lupita Nyong’o played Nakia, the former and potential love interest for Chadwick Boseman’s title character. She received a Saturn Award nomination for her work, and the film made over $1.3 billion worldwide, representing a major turning point in representation within the superhero genre.

2019 saw Lupita Nyong’o delve into horror in two films that premiered on the festival circuit. First, she played a teacher of kindergarten students on a field trip that just happens to be beset upon by zombies in “Little Monsters.” The film received mixed reviews, but even the negative ones praised Nyong’o’s go-fo-broke comedy/horror style, one that saw her singing Taylor Swift and showing off her ukulele skills.

The biggest role to date for Nyong’o, and her first leading role, came two months later with the South by Southwest Film Festival premiere of Jordan Peele’s “Us,” the Oscar-winning director’s follow-up to “Get Out.” As a woman attacked by her own doppelganger, Nyong’o gave one of the most fearless and physical performances of 2019. As of this writing, she was starting to pick up more critics group nominations on her way to a hopeful and deserving Oscar nomination. She will end the year by returning to the Lucasverse for a third time in “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” capping off a remarkable first decade in Hollywood.

Outside of her work, Lupita Nyong’o is deeply involved in causes that she finds important to her, including Mother Health International, a charity that provides birthing centers for women and children in Uganda. She has also worked for anti-poaching causes like the Kenya Wildlife Service.

Sadly, Lupita Nyong’o also became a part of the downfall of Harvey Weinstein. In October of 2017, she wrote an op-ed for The New York Times, revealing that she had been sexually harassed by the monstrous producer in 2011. At the time, she wrote, “I have felt such a flare of rage that the experience I recount below was not a unique incident with me, but rather part of a sinister pattern of behavior.” She went on to reveal that Weinstein, under the guise of a screening with his family at his house, led Lupita Nyong’o into his bedroom and sexually assaulted her.

At the end of the decade, Lupita Nyong’o was widely recognized as one of the best actresses of her generation, and only six years after her film debut. One can only imagine what she will accomplish in the next decade. 

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The 355 (2022)
Black Is King (2020)
Us (2019)
Black Panther (2018)
Queen of Katwe (2016)
The Jungle Book (2016)
Non-Stop (2014)
12 Years a Slave (2013)

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