Lupita Nyong’o

///
6 mins read

Lupita Amondi Nyong’o was born March 1, 1983 and is a Kenyan-Mexican actress. The daughter of Kenyan politician Peter Anyang’ Nyong’o, Nyong’o 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 play Eclipsed (2015), for which she was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play. She went on to perform a motion capture role as Maz Kanata in the Star Wars sequel trilogy (2015–2019) and a voice role as Raksha in The Jungle Book (2016). Nyong’o’s career progressed with her role as Nakia in the Marvel Cinematic Universe superhero film Black Panther (2018) and her starring role in Jordan Peele’s critically acclaimed horror film Us (2019).

In addition to acting, Nyong’o supports historic preservation. She is vocal about preventing sexual harassment and working for women’s rights and animal rights.

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 as 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.

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.

Nyong’o will reprise her role as Maz Kanata for the third time in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019), which will mark the final installment of the Star Wars sequel trilogy. She will also star in Simon Kinberg’s ensemble spy-thriller 355 (2021), alongside Jessica Chastain, Penélope Cruz, Fan Bingbing, and Diane Kruger.

Nyong’o is developing a television series based on Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novel Americanah, which she will produce and star in. 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. She will also reunite with director Abe Forsythe and the creative team behind the horror comedy film Little Monsters for a starring role in a science fiction comedy film.

Nyong’o will appear in British Channel 4’s documentary entitled; Warrior Women with Lupita Nyong’o to take a journey across Benin, West Africa to uncover a forgotten female army, Agoji or Dahomey Amazons. She will also narrate the Hayden Planetarium Space Show “Worlds Beyond Earth” opening in January 2020.

Nyong’o resides in Brooklyn, New York. She is a fluent speaker of Swahili, Spanish, Luo, and English. 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 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 in 2016 by Variety.

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 New York Times and The New Yorker which won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.

Nyong’o will also make her writing debut with a book entitled Sulwe, which will be published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. Sulwe (Luo for “star”) 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 September 2019, Nyong’o became an ambassador for Michael Kors’ “Watch Hunger Stop” campaign.