In my ignorance, I assumed Lupita Nyong’o’s tenacious story was yet another classic example of a rags-to-riches story. But when I overheard in a clip she, as a Kenyan, confessed she didn’t know how to cook ugali, the staple food to Africa as pasta is to italy, I knew her story had to be unique for her not to have had the need or time to learn it.
We know her as an Academy Award Winner for 12 Years A Slave, a fashion icon and most recently as Nakia in Black Panther. Knowing how she got there and getting an impression of who Lupita is as a person however, is far more intriguing to me.
Her place of birth is not Kenya, but Mexico, where her parents and 5 siblings sought refuge as political asylum seekers. Even the return to Kenya was marked by a lot of moving around between safe houses as Lupita’s father was a victim of political harassment and arrest.
As a 16 year old, she went to Mexico to learn Spanish, then moved to the States to do her Bachelor’s Degree in Film and African Studies, and attended Yale School of Drama, after having been inspired by Whoopi Goldberg’s performance in The Color Purple.
Having lived on three different continents, being shaped by cross-cultural experiences, coming from a big family, being the daughter to driven, influential, and conscientious parents, have all contributed to her solid foundation. She does not seem to take them for granted either.
Lupita strikes me as an independent, driven and capable individual, taking initiative with a desire to sincerely put herself into someone else’s shoes – not because of the limelight, but because of the compassion for the individual she brings to life, on stage, on screen, and through film.
Even though she’s known as an actress, she has a thorough background in film and understands the power of this medium. Hence the reason for choosing to do a documentary on the harsh treatment of the albino population in Kenya, called In my Genes as her final thesis.
She’s known to take the bull by the horns. During her studies, Lupita jumped at opportunities to get jobs as a production assistant on film sets. One example being the set of The Constant Gardener. Through it, she met Ralph Fiennes who challenged her only to pursue acting if she was convinced she couldn’t live without it. Humbly, she recalls:
“It’s not what I wanted to hear, but it’s what I needed to hear.”
This experience seems to have contributed immensely to her drive to tell stories worth telling, going into every project with the right motivation, ever so increasing in her capacity for compassion and being on guard against vanity.
“You can’t eat beauty, it doesn’t sustain you. What is fundamentally beautiful is compassion, for yourself and those around you. That kind of beauty inflames the heart and enchants the soul.”
May Lupita neither lose her drive for compassion in the stories she brings to her audience nor her tenacious spirit with which she carries out her creative endeavours.