Why You Should Pay Attention to Lupita Nyong’o


By Cam Vernali

Lupita Nyong'o
Source: Wikimedia Commons

With the Academy Awards starting to creep up on us, many films, directors, and actors are being shoved into the spotlight. New talent is a hot commodity to the hungry public, who thrive on learning about previously unknown actors and actresses. One new actress that should be given extra attention however, is Lupita Nyong’o.

Nyong’o stars as Patsey in “12 Years A Slave”, a new film based on the true story of Solomon Northup, a free black man in the 1840s in northern New York who was kidnapped and sold into slavery for 12 years. The film is hard to watch, but for all the right reasons; moving, realistic and powerful, “12 Years A Slave” accomplished what they set out to do when making a movie about a harsh and touchy topic such as slavery. The film succeeds at bringing the characters to life and making the audience feel something as they watch the two-hour long movie, because it’s one thing to read about all the horrors of slavery in a history textbook but another to actually see it played out in front of your eyes.

One of the reasons behind the success of “12 Years” is Nyong’o’s performance as Patsy, a fierce and strong cotton-picking slave. Her acting skills alone are a clue that Nyong’o is someone you should pay attention to. Her skills are so profound that she has an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her role in the film. But Nyong’o has more to offer than just her acting skills; off-screen, her fashion sense, morals, passion for acting and overall personality are a refreshing spin on Hollywood’s “It Girl.”

Nyong’o was born in Mexico City in 1983, where her father lectured in political science. Because of Kenyan tradition, she was given a Mexican first name, Lupita. Her family then moved back to Kenya when she was less than one year old when her father was hired as a professor at the University of Nairobi. She went to Hampshire College and then earned a master’s in acting at Yale. Nyong’o was inspired to be an actress back in high school but didn’t think she would be offered any major acting roles, so when she starred in the MTV miniseries “Shuga” right before she got into Yale, she thought that would be it for her. She eventually quit the show, but through that gig she was introduced to her current manager, Didi Rea, who gave Lupita the script of Patsey when Nyong’o was about to graduate Yale. And the rest, they say, is history.

Nyong’o still views Yale as a positive experience that has significantly helped her. In an interview with Shadow&Act, she said, “There’s absolutely no way I could have done Patsey without my training at Yale. That said, it was very difficult to be Patsey, and it was very difficult to leave her alone at the end of the day. I don’t think it was ever possible for me to leave her completely on the set. But it was a privilege to be in that place of grief, it was hard, but I just felt so privileged to do it because, at the end of the day, my discomfort and my unease were temporary, and hers was not.”

One immediate inspiring aspect of Nyong’o is her sense of style. Look at any outfit she has worn out for interviews, PR events and red carpet appearances. Nyong’o has a unique and fierce style that sets her apart from the rest. At the Golden Globes, she wore a fitted and crisp crimson cape dress by Ralph Lauren that put everyone else to shame. She’s not shy and she knows exactly what looks good on her; she also wears new things that are uncommon, but she pulls them off really well. Nyong’o wears high-end Gucci dresses and brightly colored lipstick with ease; she stands out from the rest of the crowd with fashion choices that simultaneously catch attention while not going over the top. Also, her short hair is refreshing and easily relatable since the most typical style is long, blond hair curled and styled to perfection that not everyone can have. Nyong’o is confident in her own skin, which is an admirable trait that people young women can look up to.

She doesn’t let fashion come before more important matters, though. She recently told the Los Angeles Times that “I don’t feel pressure because for me, my first love is acting. That’s where my focus is. I have the opportunity to learn about the fashion world, and I appreciate it as an art form.… But I never want it to take over my acting.”

For me, seeing a woman like Nyong’o in the media is relieving, since watching the same old white actresses prance on stage time and time again doesn’t do much for me after a while. She’s refreshing and new, breaking the normal stereotypes that are associated with not only a prominent actress in Hollywood but a strong women overall. She gives me more to strive for, since flipping through the pages of a US Weekly magazine spread about another white actress with bleach-blonde hair playing a crazy housewife can get — and does get — easily repetitive.

Nyong’o is a very talented, strong and independent African-American young women who is a great example for all young girls to look up to. She is a role model that is easily relatable and is a nice refreshing spin on the usual “It Girls” of Hollywood. So when you watch the Oscars, keep your eyes open for Lupita Nyong’o.