The untold truth of Lupita Nyong'o

Lupita Nyong'o is killing it in Hollywood, and has been ever since she slammed into the scene with her role in 12 Years a Slave in 2013. After that, she's become more and more famous for her incredible acting abilities, absolutely killer bod, and flawless beauty and grace. Who isn't out there trying to track down her fitness and skin care regimen?

But there's so much more to Nyong'o than just her gorgeous looks. The actress, also known for her work in the Star Wars franchise and the Academy Award-nominated Black Panther, is a world traveler who is fluent in four languages, according to The New York Times. Additionally, she's active in industries other than entertainment, as well as extremely well-educated.

So what is there to know about Nyong'o, who's successfully stolen the heart of just about everyone in Hollywood? What is it that makes her tick? And what can we expect of the actress in the future, given all that she's accomplished? Read on to get the scoop on all things Lupita.

Born in Mexico, raised in Kenya

Truly an international woman of mystery, Nyong'o wasn't born in the United States. Rather, she was born in Mexico City, according to The New York Times, during the time of her family's brief self-imposed exile from their native Kenya. Turns out Nyong'o's father is the governor of Kisumu County, and was a critic of former President Daniel arap Moi — hence the exile. Additionally, her mother is the managing trustee of the Africa Cancer Foundation, founded by her spouse, and a public relations consultant. So she clearly comes from a family of movers and shakers!

Growing up with her five siblings in Kenya, Nyong'o was encouraged to follow her passions and pursue her dreams, thanks to her open-minded parents. "It makes a huge difference to have a father who champions you," she shared in an interview with Marie Claire. "My dad was a feminist before it was cool for men to be feminists — his father too in many ways." Because of that, Nyong'o was free to pursue a career in whichever field she liked, and that turned out to be acting. The rest is history!

A top-notch education

Coming from such an important family, it's not surprising in the least that Nyong'o received a top-notch education. After attending several international schools in Nairobi, she moved to Mexico when she was 16 to perfect her Spanish. She stayed there with an older sister for seven months before taking the next steps in her trajectory. 

Insofar as her undergraduate work, Nyong'o decided to attend Hampshire College, a liberal arts school in Massachusetts that helped her find her path — even though the environment was quite different from what she was accustomed to. There, "there are no exams, no grades. It was a culture shock," she recalled in an interview with The Guardian. Fortunately, that freedom was good for Nyong'o, as it gave her the space to explore what she wanted. "I did appreciate it, because I was very indecisive about what I wanted to do," she continued. "I knew that if I was in a more structured environment, I would end up not taking the risks I was raised to take." 

After receiving her bachelor's degree in film and theater, Nyong'o went to graduate school at Yale for acting. Talk about smarts! 

Her girlmance with Danai is legit

If you know anything about Nyong'o, you'd know that she'll give you some serious squad ambitions. One stop by her Instagram page and you'll see her getting chummy with everyone from Oprah Winfrey to Gwyneth Paltrow to Melissa McCarthy, to name just a few. Jealous yet?

Arguably the most enviable girlmance that Nyong'o has is with The Walking Dead actress Danai Gurira, who she has known for — get this — over a decade! The two met in 2007 at the Obie Awards, where Gurira had won an award for her play, The Continuum. After that, they were on each other's radar, until a unique opportunity arose: Gurira cast her as an understudy in her play, Eclipsed. "I was in that rehearsal room and everything, and I made a promise to myself that one day I would get to play that character," Nyong'o explained in an interview with Entertainment Tonight. "And then it was my Broadway debut!" 

Nyong'o received rave reviews for her performance. Thus began a friendship that still endures today, both personally and professionally. 

An Oscar-worthy performance

Before Nyong'o was even finished with graduate school, she was offered a role in a major Hollywood film: 12 Years a Slave, directed by Steve McQueen — talk about hitting the ground running! In the movie, Nyong'o played the role of Patsey, an enslaved woman who is horribly abused by her owner (Michael Fassbender) and his wife (Sarah Paulson). So it's not surprising, then, that the cast had to blow off steam to separate themselves from the violence in the script. "We spent a long time hugging," Nyong'o explained in an interview with The Guardian. "And we did a lot of dancing. We partied hard. It was really great." 

Additionally, Nyong'o and Fassbender had great chemistry together, which helped them get through the tough scenes. "When we were in it, we were in it, and between takes would leave each other alone," she continued. "It was like going into a boxing ring. We come, knock each other down, regroup, and at the end we hold hands." Sounds intense!

Nyong'o performance garnered her an Academy Award for best supporting actress, one of the few black women ever to receive the honor. 

Breaking barriers in the beauty industry

In addition to breaking barriers in Hollywood, Nyong'o has done the same in the beauty industry, as she was the first black woman to be named as a brand ambassador for Lancôme. From being someone who used to get teased for her dark skin and pray to wake up lighter, she's now a role model and a game changer, showing how expansive beauty can be. "There's room in this world for beauty to be diverse," she affirmed in an interview with Grazia. Louder again for the people in the back!

In the time that she has been with Lancôme, they have already diversified their product line, and include more skin tones in their makeup than ever before. "I remember a time in my teens when it was impossible to find my colour of foundation," she continued. "When I began going on red carpets, we used to have to mix different colours to get the right one for my tone. I don't have to do that any more, which is a sign of progress." What an amazing accomplishment! 

Nothing but Star Wars!

After her massively successful film debut, Nyong'o appeared in Non-Stop, a typical Liam Neeson action movie. But perhaps more exciting, even than those heart-pounding thrillers, was her foray into the Star Wars franchise. In the films, such as Episode VII – The Force Awakens and Episode VIII – The Last Jedi, she plays Maz Kanata, a 1,000-year-old alien — something she relishes. "Well, you know, the reason I took on this role was because I wanted the challenge," she revealed in an interview with Screen Rant. "I wanted a complete departure from Patsey that I played in 12 Years A Slave." It's safe to say that Maz Kanata is about as far from Patsey as it gets!

Nyong'o also hoping for more challenging roles in the future, too, as it gives her the space to develop as an actress. "I would love to have a career in which I have to stretch myself and make myself grow with each role that I take on," she continued. "So this was definitely a step in that direction." We can't wait to see what's next.

Meditation gives her peace

One thing that Nyong'o turns to when she wants to calm down is meditation, something she's always been interested in. To that end, she went on a 10-day silent retreat in the spring of 2018, something she got for herself as a birthday gift. "And it was the best gift because, the thing is, my job has two main parts. There's the acting, and there's the celebrity," she explained in an interview with Marie Claire. "And the celebrity involves a lot of giving." So for her to be able to just sit with herself in silence allowed her to re-calibrate.

If you think that sounds like a difficult task, you'd be right — being in silence sans distractions is a tough undertaking. "I was constantly wanting to leave and then daring myself to take one more hour and another hour," she continued. But she made it through, and came out with the ability to let go of her attachments more. "Learning to unclutch from that control makes it easier to live, to exist," she added.

She's a children's book author

In addition to being an Academy Award-winning actress and a beauty ambassador, Nyong'o is also an author! Her book, entitled Sulwe, is about a little girl who comes to accept her "midnight" colored skin. What a thoughtful way to help children see their own special beauty.

Nyong'o doesn't expect that her book will be a cure-all for racism, but she does know it will help girls and boys like her truly see themselves. "In no way do I imagine that a child will read this and never have a problem with the world discriminating against their skin or themselves discriminating against the skin," she revealed in an interview with Marie Claire. "But at least you have a foundation. You have something that reminds you that you are enough. For me, I have my parents who do that." So it will give young kids a solid way to show themselves that they are beautiful, and not alone in the world. 

Of course she's a feminist

It should come as no surprise that Nyong'o is a card-carrying member of the sisterhood. And even though she grew up in Kenya, which she says is a very sexist society, her parents fostered an atmosphere of enlightened acceptance at home. "My outlook from very young was that women can do whatever they want," she shared in an interview with Porter magazine. So when teachers would tell her not to whistle, or discourage her from climbing trees, she was undeterred by their reprimands.

So for Nyong'o, the idea that women are equal to men was practically inscribed in her DNA. "I was a feminist before I knew that was a term," she continued. "When I heard Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's speech, We Should All Be Feminists, I was like, 'Oh, I'm a feminist. That's what I've been talking about all this time.'" We couldn't love this anymore!

Standing up to Harvey Weinstein

In October of 2017, Nyong'o did a very brave thing: she wrote a op-ed for The New York Times that discussed, in detail, her boundary-violating experience with disgraced film producer Harvey Weinstein. In it she discusses several occasions in which Weinstein propositioned her for sex, which she declined, and made her feel extremely uncomfortable. He also tried to get her to drink alcohol when she didn't want to, and told her she was being "stubborn" when she declined both the drinks and his advances. Ugh, it doesn't get much creepier than that.

Nyong'o shared her story with the world because she wanted to end the culture of silence around abusers. "I hope we can form a community where a woman can speak up about abuse and not suffer another abuse by not being believed and instead being ridiculed," she wrote. "Though we may have endured powerlessness at the hands of Harvey Weinstein, by speaking up, speaking out and speaking together, we regain that power." Those are some seriously powerful words.

Landing Black Panther

One of the most anticipated films of 2018, and maybe even of all time, was Marvel's Black Panther, which smashed box office records and brought home a ton of awards. A success by every measure, the film proved that audiences were hungry for stories about Black men and women — and would show it with their pocketbooks. With a star-studded cast that includes Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, and Danai Gurira, to name just a few, the film finally showed viewers what the Wakanda side of the Marvel Universe looks like. It was about time, too!

Nyong'o was elated to be involved in the project, which, for her and many others, was so much more than just a superhero movie. "I just feel so blessed to be a part of this movie that has the potential to really inform and shift our popular culture," she shared in an interview with Screen Rant. "And the fact that it's not only fly for days but it's also got a really interesting message and something that makes you really think." Here's hoping we'll get invited back to Wakanda again!

She watched "Get Out" in the theater five times

Jordan Peele released his directorial debut Get Out in 2017, and promptly showed Hollywood that there was a new sheriff in town. The film starred Daniel Kaluuya as Chris Washington, a young black man in a relationship with a white woman. As events transpired, audiences everywhere realized that there was a new form of horror cinema unfolding in front of them. The film garnered Peele an Academy Award for best original screenplay, the first ever black person to win the honor.

Nyong'o loved the movie so much that she went to the theater not once, not twice, but rather: "I literally watched Get Out five times in one month while I was making Black Panther," she revealed in an interview with Porter magazine. "I had things to do but I would make the time to go to the cinema and watch that film because I loved it so much." And as it turns out, that was just the start for Nyong'o and Peele.

Jordan Peele made her cry — in the good way

Nyong'o and Peele were introduced when Kaluuya, who was also in Black Panther, informed Nyong'o that Peele wanted to meet her. After that meeting, Nyong'o knew she had to work with him, even in the capacity of holding boom mikes and dragging cable. But it was when Peele asked her what she needed from a director that she started to cry. "I could just tell in that question was a man who understood what it meant to be an actor, what is the vulnerability, and the support that is most fruitful to get the most out of a creative, artistic encounter," she revealed in an interview with Marie Claire

The pair did indeed work together, as Nyong'o starred in Peele's second film Uswhich like Get Out scared the pants off of its audiences — and showed Nyong'o at her finest. "What she does in this movie is explore a darker side of herself than I've seen before," Peele said. "She brings her trademark passion and thoroughness to the role." More of this, please!

What's she planning for the future?

So what's next for Nyong'o, a woman who has already accomplished so much in a relatively short amount of time? One of the projects in the incubator is a television show based on the novel Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. "We are in full development and it is realer than it's ever been, so excited to say that," she shared in an interview with Entertainment Weekly. "The writers' room is in session, and it's being written into a TV series." And according to Extra, Gurira is the one writing it — thus the girlmance continues.

In addition to Americanah, Nyong'o will also appear in a 2020 film, 355. "Working with Jessica Chastain, Penelope Cruz, Marion Cotillard, and Bingbing Fan, those are such prolific women," she continued. "I feel very honored to be counted in their number, and to work with Simon Kinberg, who's an extremely talented director." The future is already looking quite bright for the actress!