With Star Wars or Americanah, Lupita Nyong’o’s Oscar Could Pay Off Already

Slate's Culture Blog
March 17 2014 7:16 PM

With Star Wars or Americanah, Lupita Nyong’o’s Oscar Could Pay Off Already

476571355-lupita-nyongo-winner-of-best-performance-by-an-actress
Could this be the face of Star Wars: Episode VII?

Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images

Lupita Nyong’o famously struck Oscar gold earlier this month with a screen-stealing performance as Patsey in her first feature-length film, 12 Years a Slave. Despite her sparse acting résumé, she’s reportedly having no trouble finding potential roles to follow her award-winning debut. Shortly before the Academy Awards, Nyong’o met with director J.J. Abrams for talks concerning the female lead role in his upcoming Star Wars: Episode VII, reports the Hollywood Reporter. Though there’s no confirmation of what role, if any, she’s being considered for, THR suggests it could be a non-Caucasian descendent of Obi-Wan Kenobi.

But Star Wars isn’t the only upcoming project rumored to be in Nyong’o’s sights. Speaking with Arise Entertainment 360, author and Beyoncé-sampled feminist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie coyly hinted at a big-screen adaptation of her acclaimed 2013 novel Americanah, which won the National Book Critics Circle prize for fiction over the weekend, starring none other than Nyong’o. Of the collaboration, Adichie said:

I’m going to do the mysterious thing and say that Lupita might be making an announcement sometime soon … I don’t know. That announcement might be about Americanah … I don’t know.
The only thing I’ll tell you is that Lupita was a very early fan of Americanah. And so before she was sort of well known in the way that she is now, she wrote me the loveliest email—a very long and passionate email about Americanah. So I’m going to now play the mysterious person who won’t say more.
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With so many talented actresses of color routinely overlooked by Hollywood, the concern over Lupita Nyong’o’s own future in film is not without merit. Add in the “It Girl” culture of competition Hollywood forces upon its young women and the odds are overwhelming stacked against Lupita based on race and gender alone. The fact that she was already taking meetings with J.J. Abrams before her Oscar win and only narrowly just lost out to Rooney Mara for the role of Tiger Lily in the next Peter Pan adaptation, though, suggests a possible attitude shift in Hollywood when it comes to the way it perceives women of color and their ability to carry a major-market film. Is it possible that Lupita won’t look back on her résumé in another 15 years only to find a long list of stereotypical supporting roles? If these castings rumors prove true, Nyong’o could get a shot at a career that rivals or even exceeds that of contemporaries like Anne Hathaway and Jennifer Lawrence. That, more than any Oscar, would surely validate her dreams.

Dee Lockett is Slate's editorial assistant for culture.

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