Lupita Amondi Nyong’o is born March 1, 1983. She’s a Kenyan-Mexican actress. She was born in Mexico to Kenyan parents and raised in Kenya. She attended college in the United States, earning a bachelor’s degree in film and theater studies from Hampshire College.
Nyong’o began her career in Hollywood as a production assistant. In 2008, she made her acting debut with the short film East River and subsequently returned to Kenya to star in the television series Shuga (2009). Also in 2009, she wrote, produced and directed the documentary In My Genes. She then pursued a master’s degree in acting from the Yale School of Drama. Soon after her graduation, she had her first feature film role as Patsey in Steve McQueen’s historical drama 12 Years a Slave (2013), for which she won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. She became the first Kenyan and first Mexican actress to win an Academy Award.
Nyong’o made her Broadway debut as a teenage orphan in the critically acclaimed play Eclipsed (2015), where she received a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play nomination for her performance.
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Lupita was born in Mexico City to Kenyan parents, Dorothy and Peter Anyang’ Nyong’o, a college professor turned politician. She’s identifies as Kenyan-Mexican and has dual Kenyan and Mexican citizenship. She is of Luo descent on both sides of her family, and she is the second of six children. It’s a tradition of the Luo people to name a child after the events of the day, so her parents gave her a Spanish name, Lupita. Her father is a former Minister for Medical Services in the Kenyan government. At the time of her birth, he was a visiting lecturer in political science at El Colegio de México in Mexico City, and her family had been living in Mexico for three years.
Nyong’o and her family moved back to their native Kenya when she was less than one year old, as her father was appointed a professor at the University of Nairobi. She grew up primarily in Kenya, and describes her upbringing as « middle class, suburban ». When she was sixteen, her parents sent her to Mexico for seven months to learn Spanish. During those seven months, Nyong’o lived in Taxco, Guerrero, and took classes at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México’s Learning Center for Foreigners. Her family was later forced to leave Kenya because of political unrest. Her uncle, Charles Nyong’o, disappeared after he was thrown off a ferry in 1980.
Nyong’o grew up in an artistic family, where family get-togethers often included performances by the children in the family, and trips to see plays. She attended Rusinga International school in Kenya and acted in school plays. At age 14, Nyong’o made her professional acting debut as Juliet in Romeo and Juliet in a production by the Nairobi-based repertory company Phoenix Players. While a member of the Phoenix Players, Nyong’o also performed in the plays On The Razzle and There Goes The Bride. Nyong’o cites the performances of American actresses Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey in The Color Purple with inspiring her to pursue a professional acting career. Nyong’o later attended St. Mary’s School in Nairobi, where she received an IB Diploma in 2001 before attending college in the United States. She graduated from Hampshire College with a degree in film and theatre studies.
Lupita started her career working as part of the production crew for several films, including Fernando Meirelles’s The Constant Gardener (2005), Mira Nair’s The Namesake (2006) and Salvatore Stabile’s Where God Left His Shoes (2007). She cites Ralph Fiennes, the star of The Constant Gardener, as someone who inspired her to pursue a professional acting career.
In 2008, Nyong’o starred in the short film « East River », directed by Marc Grey and shot in Brooklyn. She returned to Kenya that same year and appeared in the Kenyan television series Shuga, an MTV Base Africa/UNICEF drama about HIV/AIDS prevention. In 2009, she wrote, directed, and produced the documentary In My Genes, about the discriminatory treatment of Kenya’s albino population. It played at several film festivals and won first prize at the 2008 Five College Film Festival. Nyong’o also directed the music video The Little Things You Do by Wahu, featuring Bobi Wine, which was nominated for the Best Video Award at the MTV Africa Music Awards 2009. Nyong’o went on to enroll herself in a master’s degree program in acting at the Yale School of Drama. At Yale, she appeared in many stage productions, including Gertrude Stein’s Doctor Faustus Lights the Lights, Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, and William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew and The Winter’s Tale. While at Yale, she won the Herschel Williams Prize for « acting students with outstanding ability » during the 2011–12 academic year.
Immediately after graduating from Yale, Nyong’o landed her breakthrough role when she was cast for Steve McQueen’s historical drama 12 Years a Slave (2013). The film, which met with wide critical acclaim, tells the historical account of Solomon Northup (played by Chiwitel Ejiofor), a free-born African American man of upstate New York who is kidnapped and sold into slavery in Washington, DC in 1841.
Nyong’o played the role of Patsey, a slave who works alongside Northup at a Louisiana cotton plantation; her performance met with rave reviews. Ian Freer of Empire wrote that she « gives one of the most committed big-screen debuts imaginable, » and critic Peter Travers added that she « is a spectacular young actress who imbues Patsey with grit and radiant grace ». Nyong’o was nominated for several awards including a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress, a BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role and two Screen Actors Guild Awards including Best Supporting Actress, which she won. She was also awarded the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, becoming the sixth black actress to win the award, the first African actress to win the award, the first Kenyan actress to win an Oscar, and the first Mexican to win the award. She also became the fifteenth actress to win an Oscar for a debut performance in a feature film.
Following a supporting role in the action-thriller Non-Stop (2014), Nyong’o co-starred in Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) as force sensitive-space pirate Maz Kanata, a CGI character created using motion capture technology. Nyong’o said that she had wanted to play a role where her appearance was not relevant, and that the acting provided a different challenge than her role as Patsey. Scott Mendelson of Forbes, found Nyong’o’s role as « the center of the film’s best sequence, » and Stephanie Zacharek of Time called her a « delightful minor character ». Nyong’o was nominated for the Best Supporting Actress at the 42nd Saturn Awards and Best Virtual Performance at the 2016 MTV Movie Awards for her role.
The year 2015 saw Nyong’o make a return to stage with a starring role as an unnamed girl in the play Eclipsed, written by Danai Gurira. The play takes place during the chaos of the Second Liberian Civil War, where the captive wives of a rebel officer band together to form a community, until the balance of their lives are upset by the arrival of a new girl (played by Nyong’o). Eclipsed became The Public Theater’s fastest-selling new production in recent history.The play premiered on Broadway at the John Golden Theatre the following year. The production became the first play with an all-black and female creative cast and crew to premiere at Broadway. Nyong’o said that she understudied the play at Yale in 2009 and was terrified to play the character on stage.Her performance met with critical acclaim. The New York Times’ critic Charles Isherwood called Nyong’o « one of the most radiant young actors to be seen on Broadway in recent seasons, shines with a compassion that makes us see beyond the suffering to the indomitable humanity of its characters. » Nyong’o’s performance in Eclipsed earned her a Theatre World Award for Outstanding Broadway or Off-Broadway Debut Performance, an Obie Award for a Distinguished Performance by an Ensemble, and a nomination for the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play. In addition, she was nominated for Outstanding Actress in a Play at the Outer Critics Circle Award and a Distinguished Performance Award at the Drama League Award. Nyong’o revealed in her Lenny Letter that she turned down Hollywood films in order to bring Eclipsed to life on Broadway.
Nyong’o co-starred in Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book (2016), a live-action/animated movie, voicing Raksha, a mother wolf who adopts Mowgli (played by Neel Sethi). Robbie Collin of The Daily Telegraph wrote in his review that Nyong’o brought a « gentle dignity » to her role. Nyong’o then starred in Mira Nair’s Queen of Katwe (2016), a biopic based on the true story about the rise of a young Ugandan chess prodigy, Phiona Mutesi (played by Madina Nalwanga), who becomes a Woman Candidate Master after her performances at World Chess Olympiads. Nyong’o played Phiona’s protective mother, Nakku Harriet. Her performance was praised by critics.
Nyong’o will star opposite Chadwick Boseman as Dora Milaje Nakia in the upcoming Black Panther film. Her character was revealed at the 2016 San Diego Comic-Con.