The actress is at TIFF for the premiere of Disney’s Queen of Katwe. We wish she’d stay forever.

BY COLEMAN MOLNAR
Lupita Nyong'o

You can’t help but cheer for Lupita Nyong’o.

At first glance she looks, in a word, sweet. It’s a combination of her big, penetrating eyes, her radiant, youthful skin, and her colourful outfits that give off the visual impression of someone you might easily approach for some casual chitchat–especially when she smiles.

But study her appearance, or any of her work, for longer than a moment and you’ll notice something else: a certain gravitas, a forcefulness, a feeling of intention. Not that she isn’t a sweet, approachable person–she is, by all accounts–but unlike many stars who let work just be work, Nyong’o seemingly makes a statement with each appearance, onscreen or off.

The Kenyan actress exploded onto the scene in Hollywood in 2013 with her Oscar-winning performance as the suffering soul Patsey in Steve McQueen’s 12 Years A Slave. From that moment, anyone with a camera or microphone has been fixing it on her whenever she steps into the public eye. Last year, Nyong’o once again found herself in the spotlight as the latest instalment of Star Wars took the world by storm. She helped bring the alien character Maz Kanata, a 1,000-year-old bar owner, to life. It’s these complex types that continue to appeal to Nyong’o.

Last year she co-starred in Eclipsed, the first Broadway play with an all-woman cast, playwright, and director. (The leading ladies also happened to be of African descent.) The choice had some critics asking why an A-lister would do such a “small play.” Her reply ran on Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner’s site, Lenny Letter:

“I think as women, as women of color, as black women, too often we hear about what we ‘need to do.’ How we need to behave, what we need to wear, what’s deemed as too much or not enough, the cultural politics of what society considers appropriate for us and for our lives,” she writes. “As an African woman, I am wary of the trap of telling a single story…. The chance to appear in Eclipsed after winning an Oscar was an opportunity to share in the incredible (and too rare) freedom of playing a fully rendered African woman.”

Working with her stylist, Micaela Erlanger, who has dressed the likes of Wynona Ryder, Meryl Streep, and Olivia Munn for the red carpet, Nyong’o’s fashion choices also make fearless statements that resonate right through the world of celebrity style to contribute to the voice of black actors and actresses championing their craft. Nyong’o’s presence in the Hollywood spotlight comes at a time when the issue of racial equality in film, and in life in general, is top of mind. She may not have asked for it, but she is undoubtedly an important voice in the conversation.

This Festival, Nyong’o will be celebrating the world premiere of Disney’s Queen of Katwe. Expect to see her smiling face front and centre on the Art’s section of [insert your preferred publication here] after the world premiere party takes place at Toronto’s Spice Route. Set in Uganda and based on a true story, the film follows the rise of an unlikely chess prodigy, a 10-year-old girl from Katwe, a slum in Kampala, Uganda. Nyong’o plays the protagonist’s young, wise mother.

As always, we’ll be watching with pride and cheering her on.

“For me, fashion is all about self-expression: exploring and showcasing different parts of myself through clothing. I love being able to tell a story through image and conveying a mood through the use of different colours, patterns, and silhouettes.”

Lupita Nyong’o

Queen of Katwe
Queen of Katwe
12 Years a Slave