The winner of the best supporting actress Oscar has beauty, charm and talent to burn. Who could fail to be dazzled by her arrival on the A-list? By Adewynmi The Guardian, Monday 3 March 2014
"Nee-Yongo." "En-Yong-Go." "Nwon-go." "Nye-ongo." Nobody on any of the red carpet feeds seemed able to pronounce the surname of the woman who won the Oscar for best supporting actress on Sunday night. It didn't matter, though. Lupita Nyong'o (there's a pronunciation guide here, voiced by the actor herself) has arrived. And while most of us seem glad of it, some of us are inevitably more glad than others.
12 Years a Slave
Production year: 2013
Countries: Rest of the world, USA
Runtime: 133 mins
Directors: Steve McQueen
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Brad Pitt, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Paul Dano
Although 12 Years a Slave is her first Hollywood movie – her first job out of Yale Drama School, even – Nyong'o is no ingénue. She's 31, abundantly talented – having worked on the production crews for Hollywood movies such as The Constant Gardener – and almost extravagantly charming. At the Oscars, she never had that look of being cowed or over-awed by all the pomp and pageantry. Dazzled, sure (who wouldn't be?), but never looking out of place with it. There was always a confidence, borne out by her wonderful and gracious acceptance speeches and interviews. It helps that she looks beautiful too, with her super-short hair (a fade! On a black woman! On the red carpet!) and dark brown skin, but even that beauty seems independent of the circus around her. Of course that is not the neat reality, as she explained in her speech at the Essence Black Women In Hollywood luncheon in February: "I remember a time when I too felt unbeautiful. I put on the TV and only saw pale skin, I got teased and taunted about my night-shaded skin. And my one prayer to God, the miracle worker, was that I would wake up lighter-skinned."
Her portrayal of Patsey, a slave forced to bear the worst conditions on a daily basis, already had the critics taking notice. Her Wikipedia page lists no fewer than 45 wins for the role (the outcome of three nominations are still pending, including a couple at the Guardian film awards) plus 28 other nominations. Over the promotional cycle, she showcased a rainbow of stunning dresses (look up the United Colours of Lupita meme), each one more fabulous than the last. The world swooned (that red cape! that flower neckline!), but again, some of us a little harder than others.
It all came to a head on Sunday night, though, when she appeared on the red carpet in an ice-blue number with a delicate gold and diamond headband, and a froggy ring on the little finger of her right hand. The frog, she explained, was a family totem. And the dress? "Well, this is Prada," she told red carpet presenter Ryan Seacrest. "And it was made for me."
And then Lupita explained her choice: "It's a blue that reminds me of Nairobi. I wanted to have a little bit of home," she told Seacrest. Over on the AP feed, she smiled and repeated the line, adding it also reminded her "of champagne bubbles". See? Extravagantly charming. Incidentally, is this the point where we all starting referring to that shade as "Nairobi blue"? We live in hope.
What does it all mean? A star is born, clearly. But the post-Oscars career slump is fairly well-documented. It would be amazing if Nyong'o cleared that hurdle and went on to have a Meryl Streepesque career that goes from strength to strength. She deserves it, and just as importantly, so do we. Some of us are willing her on just a little harder than others.