Best Actress of the Decade, Entry No.1: Lupita Nyong’o

To celebrate the last decade 2010-2019, we are counting down the best actresses and discussing some of their most notable and memorable performances of the decade. With the help of Film Twitter, the ITOL team has selected 30 actresses. Guest Writer Alexandra Petrache looks back at Lupita Nyong’o and her career over the last decade.

Actress, Humanitarian, a Rising Star

By Alexandra Petrache

Lupita Nyong’o sits at Number One in our list, with incredible performances and a glowing career, that is set to only burn brighter and brighter. Very talented and motivated, Nyong’o has acted, produced, directed, and supported humanitarian work and the #TimesUp movement, on the issue of which she has been very outspoken. Out of interest Lupita started her Hollywood career as a production assistant, when the opposite is usually the norm for film stars who go on the other side of the film crew after establishing a career in acting.

What is mind-boggling is that her highly acclaimed performance in “12 Years a slave” (2013) was her first in a feature film. Nyong’o had previously starred in a short film and a Kenyan TV show about HIV/AIDS prevention.

Lupita Nyong’o at 2014 Oscars

“12 Years a Slave” 

I purposefully watched “12 Years a Slave” without having read much about the story or performances prior to the screening, hoping to be pleasantly surprised, and it was worth it, as the incredible tragic story unfolded itself supported by brilliant acting.

In “12 Years a Slave”, Nyong’o plays Patsey, a young woman who is a slave on a cotton plantation. Even though she’s obedient and hard-working at first glance, there are many layers to her. She is also creative, nostalgic and has a glimmer of hope that seems to carry her living- she makes dolls from dried plants and she sings. She enjoys her day off on Sabbath and tea with the neighbours, the only moments when she is treated like a person.

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Lupita Nyong’o in 12 Years a Slave (2013)

Nyong’o’s performance in the film reaches new heights of skill and professionalism, as she is fully immersed in Patsey’s story and plays the role in such a heart-breaking and devastating way. She makes pain, despair, obedience and resignation look so real and sharp, not a word or gesture out of place, as she builds Patsey bit-by-bit and stays true to the character until the end.

Nyong’o’s performance in the film reaches new heights of skill and professionalism, as she is fully immersed in Patsey’s story and plays the role in such a heart-breaking and devastating way.

Patsey has drive, and a voice, a pure soul and compassion even when she is abysmally wronged. Nyong’o lends her mesmerising talent to playing this variety of expressive emotions. Watching her, one falls captive to the story (a nod to her co-stars as well, who also put on brilliant performances), and feels the emotions she portrays. It is no wonder her performance was recognised with an Academy Award for Supporting Actress, which made her the first Kenyan and the first Mexican actress to receive the award.

“Us” and Other Work

Nyong’o seems to be a chameleon as she lends her skills to many different characters. After the success of “12 Years a Slave”, she gained high praise and recognition again and again for her performances, most recently in the horror film “Us” (2019), in which she had a dual role, playing a woman and her doppelgänger. She has also played the very likeable character Maz Kanata in the “Star Wars” sequels, aided by motion capture, and also Nakia in “Black Panther” (2018), again showcasing her impressive acting range, as she goes from portraying an ageing wise alien to being an elite bodyguard to the Black Panther.

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Lupita Nyong’o in Us (2019) © Universal Pictures

As her career is blooming, Nyong’o has a busy schedule ahead, with future projects including the spy film “355” (2021) and a TV show she is producing, which is based on “Americanah”, a novel written by the Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

More than a skilful actress, Nyong’o is an example of determination, passion, hard work and belief in self.


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