Born in 1983 in Mexico City, Mexico, Lupita Nyong’o started acting as a teen in Kenya and went on to work behind the scenes of the film The Constant Gardener. She directed and produced the albinism documentary In My Genesand starred in the TV series Shuga. Nyong’o went on to earn acclaim for her role as Patsey in 12 Years a Slave (2013), for which she won the 2014 Academy Award for best supporting actress, among other honors.
Background and Travels
Lupita Nyong’o was born in 1983 in Mexico City, Mexico. Her parents, Dorothy and Peter Anyang’ Nyong’o, were in political exile at the time of her birth, but were able to return to their homeland of Kenya during their daughter’s childhood. Her father later became part of the country’s senate while her mother, who worked in family planning, took a leadership position with the Africa Cancer Foundation.
Having taken to drama and obtaining the lead role in a production of Romeo and Juliet, Nyong’o also returned to Mexico during her teens to learn Spanish. She went to college in the United States, studying at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, and earning her degree in film in 2003. Upon her return to Kenya during school summer vacation, Nyong’o discovered that filming for the drama The Constant Gardener was happening in her area. She joined the set as a production assistant and met Ralph Fiennes, who told her to become an actor only if it was something she couldn’t imagine doing without.
Documentary and HIV Awareness
Nyong’o honed her craft as a filmmaker by directing, editing and producing the 2009 documentary In My Genes, which followed the stories of several Kenyans who are living with albinism. And she became a star of Kenyan television in Shuga, an MTV/UNICEF-backed series that looked at sexual relationships among youth in Nairobi, aiming to promote HIV awareness and safe sex via storytelling.
’12 Years a Slave’
Nyong’o returned to the States and, pursuing her interest in acting, earned a master’s degree from the Yale School of Drama in 2012, having performed in works like The Winter’s Tale with the school’s Repertory Theatre.
Weeks before graduating she found out that she had landed the part of Patsey in director Steve McQueen’s drama 12 Years a Slave. The Brad Pitt-produced film is based on the 19th century narrative written by Solomon Northup, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, a Northern-based free man who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in the South. Nyong’o played the role of Patsey, an enslaved young woman who befriends Northup while being horrifically abused by plantation master Edwin Epps and his wife, portrayed by Michael Fassbender and Sarah Paulson. For her performance in the film, Nyong’o won the 2014 Academy Award for best supporting actress, among several other honors.Thank you to the Academy for this incredible recognition. It doesn’t escape me for one moment that so much joy in my life is thanks to so much pain in someone else’s. And so I want to salute the spirit of Patsey for her guidance. And for Solomon, thank you for telling her story and your own.
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