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 Genes and 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.
The following year, she starred in Star Wars: The Force Awakens and the Off-Broadway play Eclipsed. The actress also featured prominently in the box office-shattering superhero flick Black Panther (2018).
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.
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.
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 a part 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 earned a slew of award nominations, before taking home the 2014 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.
Nyong’o has become a majestic fashion icon, with red-carpet appearances and pics in publications like InStyle and W. She also twice graced the cover of Vogue in a short span of time, appearing on the publication’s July 2014 and October 2015 issues.
However, Nyong’o’s appearance on the November 2017 issue of Grazia U.K. fueled controversy, after the actress slammed the magazine for retouching the photo to chop off her ponytail and smooth out her hair. The magazine subsequently apologized for the editorial mishap, with photographer An Le taking the blame for his “incredibly monumental mistake.”
Nyong’o starred opposite Liam Neeson and Julianne Moore in 2014’s Non-Stop, a thriller about an air marshal confronted by a deadly ransom threat. In June 2014, Disney’s Lucas film announced that the Oscar winner was joining the cast of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, with the film having a December 2015 release. On her Instagram account, Nyong’o posted, “I can finally say it out loud and proud: I’m going to a galaxy far far away!”
The actress portrays CGI space pirate Maz Kanata in what became the biggest domestic box office outing of all time, a role she reprised for the 2017 sequel, Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
Nyong’o also prepared for her New York stage debut in autumn 2015 with the Public Theater’s Off-Broadway production of Eclipsed, a drama about the struggles of several Liberian women during civil war. Eclipsed made its way to Broadway the following year in February, and both the play and Nyong’o herself soon earned Tony nominations.
Nyong’o returned to the big screen in 2016 with the feel-good Queen of Katwe, about an African girl who becomes a chess champion, and as the voice of the maternal wolf Raksha in a remake of Disney’s The Jungle Book.
Nyong’o found herself in the middle of another buzzworthy project when she was tapped to join the Marvel flick Black Panther as Nakia, the love interest of Chadwick Boseman’s titular superhero.
The film proved a box office smash upon its release for the four-day President’s Day weekend in February 2018, raking in more than $200 million domestically and over $360 worldwide.
Additionally, the production was notable for shattering stereotypes about the limitations of marketing a largely Black cast. Later that summer, the actress was honored with induction into Hollywood’s Walk of Fame class of 2019.
Nyong’o went on to a co-starring role in the comedy-hõrror Little Mõnsters, which premiered at Sundance in early 2019. She followed with a turn to scream-out-loud horror in Jordan Peele’s Us, about a family confronted by a sinister group of doppelgångers.