Lupita Nyong’o picked up her first Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her work in 12 Years A Slave Sunday night, giving what was arguably the best speech of the night, but who is this newcomer?

Lupita Nyong’o was born in Mexico in 1983, the second of six children, but moved with her family to Kenya when she was one. Her parents, both Kenyan, had moved their family to Mexico after her father’s brother went missing. Nyong’o’s father had been working as a democratic revolutionary in Kenya, rebelling against the autocratic regime, and feared that he might go missing as well. (Lupita was named for the circumstances of her birth – Lupita is a diminutive of Guadalupe.) Her father is now a highly regarded Kenyan politician. While Nyong’o considers herself a Kenyan, she traveled back to Mexico at the age of 16 and learned Spanish, an experience she describes as being extremely valuable.

“My conscious life has all been in Kenya and it’s my point of reference. But going back to Mexico was very formative,” she has said of the experience.

Nyong’o attended Hampshire College, where she studied Film Studies and Africana Studies. During Nyong’os time at Hampshire College, she wrote and directed a documentary, In My Genes, on albinism and worked as a PA (production assistant) on The Constant Gardner while she was home on summer break. The experience, she says, strengthened her desire to be an actress and she even got some advice from star Ralph Finnes.

“He asked me what I wanted to do with my life, and I very timidly admitted that I was interested in being an actor. He sighed and said, ‘If there’s something else that you want to do, do that. Only act if you feel you can’t live without it.’ It wasn’t what I wanted to hear, but it was the thing I needed to hear,” Nyong’o told New York Magazine.

After college, Nyong’o studied acting at the Yale School of Drama and had barely graduated when she began filming her first feature film, 12 Years A Slave – the film that would eventually bring her an Oscar. She also recently celebrated her 31st birthday with the cast and crew of 12 Years A Slave, putting a photo of the party on Instagram, writing, “Birthday surprise from the #12YearsASlave family. Feeling the love. #Oscars."

Nyong’o may have won the coveted Oscar, but she has a long career ahead of her. She is currently acting as the face of Miu Miu, has a small role in the Liam Neeson action film Non-Stop and has been earning praise for her award season style.

No matter what Nyong’o does best, she will certainly always be remembered for her work in 12 Years A Slave, which earned her one of the few standing ovations from the Oscar audience.

Olivia Truffaut-Wong

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