Family and Background
Born in 1983, Lupita Nyong’o is now 34 years old. Both her mother, Dorothy Nyong’o, and father, Peter Anyang’ Nyong’o, are Kenyan but gave birth to Lupita in Mexico City, Mexico. Lupita Nyong’o’s father, Peter Anyang’ Nyong’o, was a Kenyan government minister and senator before facing political exile and moving his family to Mexico. When she was less than one years old, however, Lupita and her family moved back to Kenya, where she spent her childhood. She was the second of six children and got her name from the Mexican name “Guadalupe,” since it was traditional in Luo heritage (Luo being the Nyong’os’ ethnic group) to name a child according to the surrounding culture. To this day, she still identifies as Kenyan-Mexican.
Lupita’s first major acting role was as Juliet in a Romeo and Juliet production in a Kenyan theater. She was 14 at the time and had done school shows prior to this exposure. At 16, she was sent back to Mexico for 7 months to learn Spanish, making her fluent in 5 different languages: English, Spanish, Luo, Swahili, and conversational Italian. She then attended Hampshire College in Ameherst, Massachusetts, where she graduated with a degree in film in 2003. When vacationing in Kenya after graduating from Hampshire College, she landed a Hollywood job as a production assistant for the film The Constant Gardener, which won an Oscar. In 2008, she moved back to Kenya to act in the MTV show, Shuga.
Lupita then moved to the U.S. once again, to earn her master’s degree in acting from the Yale School of Drama, graduating in 2012. In her final term at Yale, she auditioned for the film 12 Years a Slave, which is about a slave in the South in 1841. Lupita acted as Patsey, a fellow slave with the main character, and won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. She is the first ever black African woman as well as the first Mexican-born actress to win an Oscar. She has since starred in films such as Non-Stop (2014) and Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) and is set to star in Americanah, a film based on Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novel that bears the same title.
See a clip of Lupita’s moving scene as Patsey here:
Role as an Icon Outside of Acting
Since becoming famous for her role in 12 Years a Slave, Lupita has also become a well-known fashion icon. Among other platforms of style, Vogue magazine has featured her on their cover twice: once in the July 2014 publication, and the second in the October 2015 issue. She is the second African woman to grace the cover of Vogue (the first being Liya Kebede, who is Ethiopian). She has been an ambassador for Lancôme since 2014 and was named World’s Most Beautiful Woman by People magazine in 2014.
Lupita has inspired girls around the world to embrace a new definition of beauty, one that is not hindered by the color of their skin, as she describes beauty in a speech at the 2014 Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon, as “an expression of love.” Watch the video of this influential speech here:
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