Lupita Amondi Nyong’o (1982– )

Lupita Nyong'o, 2019
Courtesy Daniel Benavides (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Lupita Nyong’o, 2019
“Image Ownership: Daniel Benavides”

Lupita Amondi Nyong’o is a Kenyan-Mexican actress who is best known for her role as the character Patsey in the Academy Award-winning film, 12 Years a Slave. Nyong’o was born on March 1, 1983, in Mexico City, Mexico, to Kenyan parents Dorothy and Peter Anyang Nyong’o. She identifies herself as Kenyan-Mexican and has dual Kenyan-Mexican citizenship. The second of six children, Nyong’o’s father, Peter, served as a former minister for Medical Services in the Kenyan government, and also worked as a visiting lecturer in political science at El Colegio de Mexico in Mexico City, Mexico.

Nyong’o parents moved back to Kenya when she was an infant when her father became a professor at the University of Nairobi. She lived in Kenya until she was sixteen years old when her parents sent her to Mexico to learn Spanish for seven months. Her family, like many Kenyan families, was forced to leave Kenya due to political unrest.

Upon returning to Kenya, seventeen-year-old Nyong’o took drama and landed a lead role as Juliet in Romeo and Juliet, a production by the Nairobi-based company Phoenix Players.  Nyong’o attended St. Mary’s School in Nairobi and received her diploma in 2001. She then came to the United States and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, earning a degree in film and theatre studies in 2003.

After graduation, Nyong’o worked as part of a production crew for several films, but in 2008, she starred in the short film, East River, directed by Marc Grey. That same year, Nyong’o returned to Kenya and appeared in the Kenyan television series, Shuga, an MTV base[d] Africa/UNICEF drama about HIV/AIDS prevention. In 2008 Lupita wrote, directed, and produced the documentary film, In My Gates, about the discriminatory treatment of Kenya’s albino population. In My Gates won first prize at the 2008 Five College Film Festivals. Nyong’o also directed the music video, The Little Things You Do, by Wahu, which was nominated for the Best Video Award at the MTV Africa Music Awards 2009. The success of these productions motivated Nyong’o to enroll in the Yale School of Drama in 2010; she earned a master’s degree in 2012.

After graduating from Yale, Nyong’o was cast as Patsey in Steve McQueen’s epic film, 12 Years a Slave (2013), an adaptation of the 1853 slave memoir Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup, a New York-born free African-American who was kidnapped in Washington D.C. in 1841 and sold into slavery. The film was a critical success at the box office. Lupita received a Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Award for Best Supporting Actress. Nyong’o then received an Oscar at the 2013 Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actress, only the sixth black actress to win the award in that category but also the first African actress to win the award. Nyong’o also became the fifteenth actress of any race to win an Oscar for a debut performance in a feature film.

After 12 Years a Slave, Nyong’o acted in other movies, including Non-Stop (2014), Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015), The Jungle Book (2016), and Queen of Katwe (2016). Nyong’o continues to act in roles going into 2017.