Born: March 1, 1983
Birthplace: Mexico City, Mexico
Zodiac Sign: Pisces
Career and Life
Lupita Amondi Nygnog'o (Kenyan English: [luˈpiːtɑː ˈɲɔːŋɔ] (About this soundlisten); Spanish: [luˈpita ˈɲoŋ(ɡ)o] is a Kenyan-Mexican actress. The daughter of Kenyan politician Peter Anyang' Nyong'o, she was born in Mexico City, where her father was teaching, and was raised in Kenya from the age of one. 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 (2009–2012). 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 received critical acclaim and won several awards, including the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. She became the first Kenyan and Mexican actress to win an Academy Award.
Nyong'o made her Broadway debut as a teenage orphan in the critically acclaimed play Eclipsed (2015), for which she was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play. Following a motion capture role as Maz Kanata in the Star Wars sequel trilogy and a voice role as Raksha in The Jungle Book (2016), Nyong'o starred as Nakia in the Marvel Cinematic Universe superhero film Black Panther (2018).
In addition to acting, Nyong'o supports historic preservation. She is vocal about preventing sexual harassment and working for women and animal rights. In 2014, she was named the most beautiful woman by People.
Nyong'o was born in Mexico City, Mexico, to Kenyan parents, Dorothy Ogada Buyu and Peter Anyang' Nyong'o, a college professor. The family had left Kenya in 1980 for a period because of political repression and unrest; Peter's brother, Charles Nyong'o, disappeared after he was thrown off a ferry in 1980.
Nyong'o identifies as Kenyan-Mexican and has dual Kenyan and Mexican citizenship. She is of Luo descent on both sides of her family, and is the second of six children. It is 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 (a diminutive of Guadalupe). 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. He later became a senior politician in Kenya.
The family returned to their native Kenya when Nyong'o was less than one year old, as her father was appointed a professor at the University of Nairobi. She grew up primarily in Nairobi, and describes her upbringing as "middle class, suburban". When she was 16, 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.
Nyong'o grew up in an artistic family, where get-togethers often included performances by the children, and trips to see plays. She attended Rusinga International School in Kenya and acted in school plays.
At the age of 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. She went to the United States for college, graduating from Hampshire College with a degree in film and theatre studies.
Nyong'o 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 British 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 enrolled 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 in the 2011–12 academic year for "acting students with outstanding ability" .
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, is based on the life of Solomon Northup (played by Chiwetel 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 for 12 Years a Slave, 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. She is 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 was the 15th 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. The acting provided a different challenge from her role as Patsey. Scott Mendelson of Forbes, characterised 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.
In 2015 Nyong'o returned 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 and won Nyong'o an Obie Award for Outstanding Performance. The play premiered on Broadway at the John Golden Theatre the following year. It was the first play to premiere on Broadway with an all-black and female creative cast and crew. 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 said that she turned down Hollywood films for the part.
Nyong'o co-starred in Jon Favreau's The Jungle Book (2016), a live-action/CGI adaptation of its 1967 animated original, 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. She later co-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. Brian Tallerico of RogerEbert.com said, "Nyong'o is phenomenal. She has an incredible ability to convey backstory." Geoff Berkshire of Variety called Nyong'o's performance "Simply radiant in her first live action role since winning an Oscar for 12 Years a Slave [...] she imbues what could have been a stock mother figure with such inner fire that Harriet feels worthy of a movie all her own."
Nyong'o reprised her role as Maz Kanata in Rian Johnson's Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017), as well as in the animated series Star Wars Forces of Destiny. The following year, she starred as spy Nakia, a former member of Dora Milaje, a team of women who serve as special forces of Wakanda and personal bodyguards to T'Challa / Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), in Ryan Coogler's superhero film Black Panther (2018), which marked the eighteenth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Nyong'o learned to speak Xhosa for the part, and trained in judo, jujitsu, silat and Filipino martial arts. David Betancourt of The Washington Post wrote that the film "takes superhero cinema where it's never gone before by not being afraid to embrace its blackness"; he particularly praised Nyong'o's portrayal of her character for avoiding stereotypical depictions of a black leading lady, writing that she "throws punches, shoots guns and steals hearts in a role she seems born for." Black Panther earned over $1.34 billion to emerge as the ninth highest-grossing film of all time. Nyong'o received a Saturn Award for Best Actress nomination for the film.
As of 2018, Nyong'o will be making her writing debut with a book entitled Sulwe, which will be published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. Sulwe (Luo for "star2) is the story of a five-year-old Kenyan girl, who has the darkest complexion in her family, for which Nyong'o drew upon her own childhood experiences. On screen, she will star as a teacher named Miss Caroline in Abe Forsythe's horror-romance Little Monsters alongside Josh Gad and Jordan Peele's horror film Us. Nyong'o is once again set to reprise her role as Maz Kanata in Star Wars: Episode IX (2019), the third and final installment of the Star Wars sequel trilogy.
Nyong'o is also developing a television series based on Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's novel Americanah, which she will produce and star in. In addition, she will produce and star in Born a Crime, a film adaptation of Trevor Noah's memoir of the same name, in which she will play Noah's mother, Patricia; will star alongside Viola Davis in The Woman King, a drama based on the Dahomey Amazons; and will lend her voice to play the Giant in the live-animation film Jack. She has also committed to star in a remake of John Woo's 1989 action thriller The Killer and Simon Kinberg's ensemble spy-thriller 355.
Nyong'o resides in Brooklyn, New York. She is a fluent speaker of Spanish, Luo, English, and Swahili. On February 27, 2014, at the Essence Black Women In Hollywood luncheon in Beverly Hills, she gave a speech on the beauty of black women and talked about the insecurities she had as a teenager. She said her views changed when she saw South Sudanese supermodel Alek Wek become successful.
In 2013, her father was elected to represent Kisumu County in the Kenyan Senate and by 2017, he became Governor. Nyong'o's mother is the managing director of the Africa Cancer Foundation and her own communications company. Other family members include Tavia Nyong'o, a scholar and professor at New York University; Dr. Omondi Nyong'o, a pediatric ophthalmologist in Palo Alto, CA; Kwame Nyong'o, one of Kenya's leading animators and leading technology expert; and Isis Nyong'o, a media and technology leader who was named one of Africa's most powerful young women by Forbes magazine.
In 2014, the National Trust for Historic Preservation recruited Nyong'o in an effort to oppose development, including a new minor league baseball stadium, in the Shockoe Bottom area of Richmond, Virginia. The historic neighborhood, one of Richmond's oldest, was the site of major slave-trading before the American Civil War. On October 19, 2014, Nyong'o sent a letter to Richmond Mayor Dwight C. Jones, which she posted on social media sites, asking him to withdraw support for the development proposal.
In June 2015, Nyong'o returned to Kenya and announced that she will advocate globally for elephants with the international conservation organization WildAid, as well as promote women's issues, acting and the arts in Kenya. WildAid announced Nyong'o as their Global Elephant Ambassador.
Nyong'o is involved in the organization Mother Health International, which is dedicated to providing relief to women and children in Uganda by creating locally engaged birthing centers. She said she'd never thought much about birthing practices until her sister introduced her to MHI executive director Rachel Zaslow. Nyong'o felt bringing attention to such important but overlooked issues is a mandate for her as an artist. She was honored for her work at Variety## magazine's 2016 Power of Women.
In April 2016, Nyong'o launched an anti-poaching "hearts and minds" campaign with her organization Wildaid in advance of Kenya Wildlife Service's history-making ivory burn that occurred April 30. The Kenyan government burned 105 tonnes of Ivory and 1.35 tonnes of rhino horn in a demonstration of their zero tolerance approach to poachers and smugglers who were threatening the survival of elephants and rhinoceros in the wild.
In October 2017, Nyong'o wrote an op-ed for The New York Times, in which she revealed that Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein sexually harassed her twice in 2011, while she was a student at Yale. She vowed that she would never work with Weinstein, hence her declining a role in Southpaw (2015). Nyong'o also wrote about her commitment to work with women directors or male feminist directors, who had not abused their power. This op-ed was part of a collection of stories done by The Times and The New Yorker which won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.