• Golden Globe Awards

Happy 40th Lupita Nyong’o

From Mexico City to Kenya to Yale to Hollywood. And from production assistant to superstar. Lupita Nyong’o’s life is as unusual as her career. The multiple award-winning actress – to date she has won 100 awards exactly – turns 40 on March 1.
Lupita Amondi Nyong’o was born in Mexico City where her parents briefly lived after her father, a politician left his native Kenya with her mother because of governmental upheaval and decided to teach in the Mexican capitol. When Lupita – who was named in the tradition of the Luo people who name a child after the events of the day, and her parents gave her a Spanish name, Lupita, a diminutive term for Guadalupe – was three, the family returned to Kenya, was sent back to Mexico to learn Spanish by her parents and then went to the US where she earned her bachelor’s degree in film and theatre studies. Her first TV-role was in the Kenyan series Shuga for which she returned to Africa but decided to build on her art education in 2012 with a master’s degree from Yale.

In 2013 she got the role that would mark her breakthrough performance: Patsey in 12 Years a Slave, for which she won a Golden Globe, an Oscar and a SAG Award. She followed this with 2016th Queen of Katwe in which she portrayed a real-life character and told the HFPA how much she enjoys playing roles from all over the world: “I grew up watching movies, television from all over the world. Australia, Mexican, Brazilian, English, American. And I found myself identifying with those people. There is a humanity that comes across, no matter what culture somebody comes from, we have more in common than we have different. So, to have an African story play a similar role around the globe is so important because it encourages empathy and the unfamiliar becomes all that more familiar. And so, for me it’s really a chance to share my home with a global audience.”
Even though she began acting at 14 years old as Juliet in Romeo and Juliet by a Nairobi-based repertory company and credits the performances by Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey in The Color Purple for igniting her acting spark, she also admitted that it was not until the recognition for her career-defining film that she was absolutely certain she had chosen the right profession: “In my past I had trepidations about did I want to be an actor? And then I finally chose to pursue it and went to Graduate School for it and then to come out and have such an incredible opportunity as I did with 12 Years a Slave and to come with it so many accolades was definitely a constant meditation of how valuable it is to follow your passion and follow your dream.”
She went on to star in Jordan Peele’s Us, in Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker, voiced various animated characters and played Nakia in both Black Panther films.
Next year she will be seen in John Krasinski’s third installment of the successful A Quiet Place. The plot is one of the best kept secrets in Hollywood. She also earned a Tony nomination for her first Broadway play in Eclipsed (2015) and is a successful author: her children’s book “Sulwe” landed her on the New York Times-bestseller list in 2019.
It is not just her choice of movie roles that is as eclectic and wide-ranging as her upbringing and the places she lived in. She also has very international culinary taste with a weakness for a particular snack and visitors better not show up at her door without it: “It’s of Indian descent. We have a lot of Indian influences in our food. It’s called Chevra and I love it so much that if somebody is coming from home, they have to come with some Chevra, or they cannot stay in my apartment. It’s deep-fried potatoes and lentils, and it’s got nuts and raisins and is so good.”
On top of her unquestionable reputation as one of Hollywood’s most interesting and talented actors of her generation, she soon began to carve out her place in fashion. She wore a bright red cape dress by Ralph Lauren when she accepted her Golden Globe for 12 Years a Slave and a powder blue silk Prada gown for the Oscars. For the 2021 Met gala she wore denim by Versace and for a runway show she invoked Marlene Dietrich and Nina Simone with a hairdo and make-up that included rhinestone sparkle. For the world premiere of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever in Los Angeles, she came up with a dual sense of location: her look embodied both the continent of Africa, and that of the fictional country of Wakanda. She wore a white custom-made Balmain gown that reminded critics of an African statue. The dominant colors of her makeup were red and terracotta earth tones. Her hair was braided into a crown with a wreath of white shells. Nyong’o is a darling of the industry’s biggest designers who appreciate her courage and flair when it comes to dressing up. For more of her red carpet looks over the years, please watch this birthday tribute on our YouTube channel: