Stunned. Flabbergasted. These were my reactions last December when Jennifer Lawrence‘s spirited, riffy performance as Rosalyn Rosenfeld in American Hustle began beating Lupita Nyong’o‘s as the besieged and tragic Patsey in 12 Years A Slave for Best Supporting Actress honors within the film community. Nyong’o’s performance has won nearly 30 acting awards from critics and journalists, but the industry mindset is something else. Oddly, curiously, Lawrence has the momentum.
Obviously many are saying they “like” Lawrence’s performance more than Nyongo’s, which they probably felt was too anguished. (Which is how too many have responded to Slave itself — they know it’s a world-class effort but they don’t “like” watching all that hurt and subjugation.) Voters respect Nyong’o’s shattering communion with Patsey. but Rosalyn is a charmer — mouthy, under-educated, spirited. She makes voters grin; Patsey makes them feel glum.
Should acting awards be about the conveyance of something deeper and more profound than likability? Like, you know…common humanity? Yes. Does likability usually win anyway? Yes.
And yet a month ago at the 1.18 SAG Awards, Nyong’o finally beat Lawrence for Best Supporting Actress. Breakthrough! And then Lawrence bounced back and beat her again the night before last at London’s BAFTA Awards. I give up. No, I’m not giving up. That’s why I’m writing this. To say that Nyong’o deserves the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for giving one of the most shattering Oscar-nominated performances in this history of film.
Lawrence is a pistol and a firecracker but she’s 23…Jesus. She won the Best Actress Oscar 12 months ago, deservedly. And she’s richer than Cresus. She doesn’t need another Oscar. She’s fine. But 2013/14, really, is Lupita Nyong’o’s moment in time. On top of which she’ll be 31 two weeks from now. And she’s reportedly now dating Jared Leto. Wait…so what? Sorry, that just slipped out.
Like all mesmerizing turns, Nyong’o’s will resonate 10, 25, 50 years from now. She and Chiwetel Ejiofor carry the heart of 12 years A Slave on their backs. She digs so much deeper into the soul and the struggle than Lawrence is even allowed to try for in American Hustle…and yet you can feel Nyongo’s intensity all the while. Craft, tenacity, conviction. Read her Wiki bio — she’s a theatre lady extraordinaire. Julie Harris, Katharine Hepburn, Helen Hayes, Katherine Cornell…one of those. She was only 14 when she played Juliet in Romeo and Juliet with the Phoenix Players, a Kenya-based repertory company…c’mon.
Consider the boilerplate bio. Really, just read it…an extraordinary life.
Lupita Amondi Nyong’o (born on 3.1.83) is a Kenyan actress, film director, and music video director. She was born in Mexico City, Mexico. Her father is Peter Anyang’ Nyong’o, a Kenyan politician who was the former Kenyan Minister for Medical Services. At the time of Lupita’s birth, he was a visiting lecturer in political science at El Colegio de Mexico in Mexico City, and her family had been living in Mexico for three years. Peter was in political exile for his pro-democracy activities that challenged Kenya’s then-autocratic government, after his brother disappeared under mysterious circumstances.
“Nyong’o moved back to Kenya with her parents when she was less than one year old, when her father was hired as a professor at the University of Nairobi. She grew up primarily in Kenya, and describes her upbringing as ‘middle class, suburban’. At age 16 her parents sent her back to Mexico for seven months, to learn Spanish. Nyong’o lived in Taxco, Mexico and took classes at Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico’s Learning Center For Foreigners.
“In 2013 Pert Nyong’o was elected to represent Kisumu County in the Kenyan Senate. Nyong’o’s mother Dorothy is currently the managing director of the Africa Cancer Foundation and her own communications company. In 2012, her older cousin, Isis Nyong’o, was named one of Africa’s most powerful women by Forbes magazine. Her uncle, Aggrey Nyong’o, was a prominent Kenyan physician, killed in a road accident in 2002.
“Nyong’o currently resides in Brooklyn, New York She is fluent in English, Spanish, Swahili, and Luo.
“Lupita has cited the performances of Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey in The Color Purple with inspiring her to pursue a professional acting career.
“She attended college in the United States. After graduating from Hampshire College with a degree in film and theatre studies, she worked on the production crew of many films, including Fernando Meirelles’s The Constant Gardener. Ralph Fiennes, star of that film, inspired her to seriously pursue a professional acting career.
“Nyong’o starred in the 2008 short film East River, directed by Marc Grey and shot in Brooklyn, New York. 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 subsequently enrolled in the acting program 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 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 2011–2012 school year.
Nyong’o was cast in 12 Years a Slave immediately before graduating from Yale with an MFA in 2012.