Lupita Amondi Nyong’o (/ /; born March 1, 1983) is a Kenyan-Mexican actress, film and music video director. After graduating from Hampshire College with a bachelor’s degree in film and theatre studies, Nyong’o worked as a production assistant on several Hollywood films. In 2008 she made her acting debut with the short film East River and subsequently starred in the Kenyan television series Shuga (2009). Also in 2009, she wrote, produced and directed the documentary film In My Genes.
Nyong’o later completed a master’s degree in acting from the Yale School of Drama, followed by her first feature film role in Steve McQueen‘s historical drama 12 Years a Slave (2013). Her role in the film was widely acclaimed, earning her the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, among numerous other awards and nominations. In 2014, she was named Most Beautiful Woman by People Magazine.
Nyong’o was born in Mexico City, Mexico,to Dorothy and Peter Anyang’ Nyong’o, a college professor turned politician in Kenya. It is a Luo tradition to name a child after the events of the day, so her parents gave her a Spanish name, Lupita (a diminutive of Guadalupe). She is of Luo descent on both sides of her family, and is the second of six children.Nyong’o identifies as Mexican-Kenyan. Her father was the former Minister for Medical Services in the Kenyan government. At the time of her birth, he was a visiting lecturer in political science at El Colegio de México in Mexico City, and her family had been living in Mexico for three years.
Nyong’o briefly moved to New York with her parents, and then back to their native Kenya, when she was less than one year old, as her father was appointed a professor at the University of Nairobi. She grew up primarily in Kenya, and describes her upbringing as “middle class, suburban”. At age sixteen, her parents sent her back to Mexico for seven months to learn Spanish.During those seven months, Nyong’o lived in Taxco, Guerrero, and took classes at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México‘s Learning Center for Foreigners.
Nyong’o grew up in an artistic family, where family get-togethers often included performances by the children in the family and trips to see plays. She attended an all-girls school in Kenya and acted in school plays, with a minor role in Oliver Twist being her first play. At age 14, Nyong’o made her professional acting debut as Juliet in Romeo and Juliet in a production by the Nairobi-based repertory company Phoenix Players. While a member of the Phoenix Players, Nyong’o also performed in the plays “On The Razzle” and “There Goes The Bride”. Nyong’o cites the performances of Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey in The Color Purple with inspiring her to pursue a professional acting career.
Nyong’o later attended St. Mary’s School in Nairobi, where she received an IB Diploma in 2001 before attending college in the United States. After graduating from Hampshire College with a degree in film and theatre studies,she worked as part of the production crew for many films, including Fernando Meirelles‘s The Constant Gardener, with Ralph Fiennes, Mira Nair‘s The Namesake and Salvatore Stabile’s Where God Left His Shoes. She cites Fiennes as another individual who inspired her to pursue a professional acting career.
She starred in the 2008 short film East River, directed by Marc Grey and shot in Brooklyn.She returned to Kenya in 2008 and starred in the Kenyan television series Shuga, an MTV Base Africa/UNICEF drama about HIV/AIDS prevention.In 2009, she wrote, directed, and produced the documentary In My Genes, about the treatment of Kenya’s albino population,which played at several film festivals and won first prize at the 2008 Five College Film Festival. Nyong’o also directed the music video The Little Things You Do by Wahu featuring Bobi Wine,which was nominated for the Best Video Award at the MTV Africa Music Awards 2009.
She subsequently enrolled for a master’s degree in acting at the Yale School of Drama. At Yale she appeared in many stage productions, including Gertrude Stein‘s Doctor Faustus Lights the Lights, Chekhov‘s Uncle Vanya, and William Shakespeare‘s The Taming of the Shrew and The Winter’s Tale. While at Yale, she was the recipient of the Herschel Williams Prize “awarded to acting students with outstanding ability” during the 2011–12 academic year.
Nyong’o currently resides in Brooklyn. She is fluent in her native Luo, English, Swahili and Spanish. On February 27, 2014, at the Essence Black Women In Hollywood luncheon in Beverly Hills, she gave a speech on the beauty of black women and talked about the insecurities she had about herself as a teenager. She said her views about herself changed when she saw South Sudanese supermodel Alek Wek become successful.
In 2013, her father was elected to represent Kisumu County in the Kenyan Senate.Nyong’o’s mother is currently the managing director of the Africa Cancer Foundation and her own communications company.Other family members include Tavia Nyong’o who is a scholar and professor at New York University, Dr. Omondi Nyong’o who is a pediatric ophthalmologist in Palo Alto, CA, Kwame Nyong’o who is one of Kenya’s leading animators and leading technology expert Isis Nyong’o, who was named one of Africa’s most powerful women by Forbes magazine.Her uncle, Aggrey Nyong’o, a prominent Kenyan physician, was killed in a road accident in 2002.