I’m as gratified as Vulture‘s Kyle Buchanan that Lupita Nyong’o has snagged a somewhat marginal supporting role in J.J. Abrams‘ Star Wars: Episode VII. (Possibly as a villain of some sort or, as a Hollywood Reporter story mentioned last January, as “a descendant of Obi-Wan Kenobi.”) Not because the reboot will offer a great acting opportunity but because (a) it’s a nifty, high-profile paycheck gig and we all need to pay the mortgage, and (b) it signifies, as Buchanan puts it, that Nyong’o’s “career momentum is restored, and her ascent to the Hollywood A-list now comes complete with an A-list project.”
But from a Movie Godz perspective the hire is (a) a purely practical maneuver on Nyong’o’s part and (b) a right-down-the-middle Hollywood political gesture.
When a relative unknown wins an Oscar, the first thing the agent does the next morning is start fishing around for a paycheck role in a prestige project that will ratify the client’s standing in the community. What else can Nyong’o do at this stage? Hold out for the next role that’s as good and well-directed as the one she played in 12 Years A Slave? The fact is that she needs to be extra-shrewd and extra-lucky over the next two or three years, and joining Episode VII is…well, perhaps not a combination of the two but it certainly can’t hurt for the time being.
Otherwise I suspect that Abrams decided he wanted Nyong’o for Star Wars, other than the fact that she’s obviously gifted, because he wanted to pay tribute to her recent Oscar triumph and perhaps have some of that shit rub off on him and/or the film. Abrams knows she’ll make Star Wars seem a little classier and that giving Nyong’o a Star Wars stamp on her passport will make him seem a little cooler.
That’s all that’s going on here for the most part — totally standard post-Oscar opportunism plus a political decision based on a reading of within-the-industry sentiment.