Lupita Nyong’o is perhaps the most prominent African actress in American cinema. Born in Mexico and raised in Kenya since the age of one, Nyong’o at just thirty-five years old has already received some of the most prestigious accolades of her profession. In her first film, Nyong’o won, among many awards, an Oscar, becoming the first Kenyan to do so. In 2018, she starred in the African-centered superhero film Black Panther, which was as much a watershed cultural moment as it was a cinematic success.
Lupita Nyong'o accepting her Oscar in 2013.
However, Nyong’o has not just enjoyed celebrity for celebrity’s sake. The native Kenyan has used her platform and notoriety to provide opportunity for others from her hometown of Nairobi, and Africa generally. Along with a commitment to showing the beauty and brilliance within continental Africa with films like Black Panther and Queen of Katwe (the film adaptation of the story of Phiona Mutesi), Nyong’o has also demonstrated a desire to preserve it. Through work with and advocacy on behalf of organizations such as the African Wildlife Foundation and save the wildlife, the actress has made it a mission to ensure that future generations of African children can experience the beauty of Africa that she knew and knows.
Lupita Nyongo'o in the film Queen of Katwe.
In a 2014 interview, Nyong’o described her motivation for the roles she takes on. As a child who had exposure to “American movies, Mexican soaps, and British shows,” Nyong’o mentions “it gave me a lot of perspective, and I was able to relate to humanity in all sorts of different forms. But at the same time, seeing yourself onscreen—people that look like you that are culturally more relevant—is really important. I think it’s dangerous to not have that.”
Hazim Hardeman is a graduate student at Oxford University, where he will pursue a Master of Philosophy (MPhil) in Economic and Social History. He is also African Community Learning Program's secretary and intern for the #500EmpoweringAfricanStories Project.
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