An Academy Award-winning actress and women’s-rights activist, Lupita Nyong’o has become a strong role model for women and girls all around the globe.
Thanks to a feisty Mexican-born, Kenyan-raised actress, finding a black female action figure on a toy-store shelf filled with white, male superhero toys is no longer as difficult a task. Lupita Nyong’o has become an international superstar with her charismatic portrayal of Wakandan spy Nakia in the hit movie Black Panther. Not only has the film brought about a cultural revolution of sorts, but it has thrust three key black female characters – Nyong’o’s Nakia, along with Okokye, played by Danai Gurira, and Shuri, played by Letitia Wright – into the limelight. “We see women going about their business and supporting each other and even arguing with each other, having different points of view, but not being against each other, and that’s incredibly important,” Nyong’o said of their roles in a press conference. “[We see] how much more effective a society can be if we allow women to explore their full potential.”
Born to Act
Lupita grew up in an artistic milieu where trips to the theatre and performing at family get-togethers was the norm. She was drawn to the stage at a very young age and acted in several school plays. She then graduated from the acclaimed Yale School of Drama with a master’s degree in acting, even winning the Herschel Williams Prize awarded to acting students with outstanding ability. Lupita cites two African-American icons as her inspiration to take up acting as a full-time career. “The Color Purple was one of the first films I saw that had people who looked like me,” she told Glamour magazine in 2014. “Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah [Winfrey] were big influences. And the relationship with the sisters – I have sisters – just pulled at my heartstrings.” In 2013, her gritty performance as a slave, Patsey, in Steve McQueen’s 12 Years A Slave earned her an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, making her the first African and the first Mexican to win that award, as well as the first Kenyan to win an Oscar.
In 2017, Nyong’o wrote an op-ed in The New York Times about the harassment she faced at the hands of disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, sending a strong message to women and girls being pushed into a corner by men in positions of power. “I hope we can form a community where a woman can speak up about abuse and not suffer another abuse by not being believed and instead ridiculed,” she wrote in the powerful piece, which was lauded by her peers and fans alike.
Making the World Better
When she’s not busy being the face of glamorous makeup brands (she became the first black woman to be named brand ambassador for Lancôme) or having a day dedicated to her (October 20th is officially Lupita Nyong’o Day in Harlem), the gorgeous 35-year-old nurtures her passion for wildlife by being a leading voice for elephant conservation through the non-profit organization WildAid. 2019 was a major one for Lupita, as she made her writing debut with Sulwe, a story of a five-year-old Kenyan girl who has the darkest complexion in her family, something she has been through herself and which became a number one New York Times Best-Seller. Nyong’o was named among Africa’s “50 Most Powerful Women” by Forbes in 2020. It seems like there’s nothing this warrior queen can’t do.
Baisakhi Roy | Contributing Writer
Photo credit: Gage Skidmore