Lupita Nyong’o was born in 1983 in Mexico to Kenyan parents Dorothy Ogada Buyu and Peter Anyang’ Nyong’o, a college professor turned politician. She was raised in Kenya. She attended college in the United States, earned a bachelor’s degree in film and theater studies from Hampshire College. Nyong’o began her career in Hollywood as a production assistant. In 2008, she made her acting debut with the short film East River and subsequently returned to Kenya to star in the television series Shuga in 2009.
In 2009, she wrote, produced and directed the documentary In My Genes. She then pursued a master’s degree in acting from the Yale School of Drama. Soon after her graduation, she had her first feature film role as Patsey in Steve McQueen’s historical drama 12 Years a Slave in 2013 for which she won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. She became the first Kenyan and first Mexican actress to win an Academy Award. Nyong’o made her Broadway debut as a teenage orphan in the critically acclaimed play Eclipsed in 2015 and was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play for her performance.
Nyong’o identifies as Kenyan-Mexican and has dual Kenyan and Mexican citizenship. She is of Luo descent on both sides of her family, and she is the second of six children. It is a tradition of the Luo people to name a child after the events of the day, so her parents gave her a Spanish name, Lupita (a diminutive of Guadalupe).
At the time of her birth, he was a visiting lecturer in political science at El Colegio de México in Mexico City, and her family had been living in Mexico for three years. Nyong’o and her family moved back to their native Kenya when she was less than one year old, as her father was appointed a professor at the University of Nairobi. She grew up primarily in Kenya, and describes her upbringing as “middle class, suburban”. When she was sixteen, her parents sent her to Mexico for seven months to learn Spanish
Nyong’o grew up in an artistic family, where get-togethers often included performances by the children, and trips to see plays. She attended Rusinga International school in Kenya and acted in school plays. At age 14, Nyong’o made her professional acting debut as Juliet in Romeo and Juliet in a production by the Nairobi-based repertory company Phoenix Players. While a member of the Phoenix Players, Nyong’o also performed in the plays On The Razzle and There Goes The Bride. Nyong’o cites the performances of American actresses Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey in The Color Purple with inspiring her to pursue a professional acting career.
Nyong’o later attended St. Mary’s School in Nairobi, where she received an IB Diploma in 2001 before attending college in the United States. She graduated from Hampshire College with a degree in film and theatre studies.
Nyong’o started her career working as part of the production crew for several films, including Fernando Meirelles’s The Constant Gardener in 2005, Mira Nair’s The Namesake in 2006 and Salvatore Stabile’s Where God Left His Shoes in 2007. She also cites Ralph Fiennes, the star of The Constant Gardener, as someone who also inspired her to pursue a professional acting career.
In 2008, Nyong’o starred in the short film “East River”, directed by Marc Grey and shot in Brooklyn. She returned to Kenya that same year and appeared in the Kenyan television series Shuga, an MTV Base Africa/UNICEF drama about HIV/AIDS prevention. In 2009, she wrote, directed, and produced the documentary In My Genes, about the discriminatory treatment of Kenya’s albino population. It played at several film festivals and won first prize at the 2008 Five College Film Festival. Nyong’o also directed the music video The Little Things You Do by Wahu, featuring Bobi Wine, which was nominated for the Best Video Award at the MTV Africa Music Awards 2009.
Nyong’o went on to enroll herself in a master’s degree program in acting at the Yale School of Drama. At Yale, she appeared in many stage productions, including Gertrude Stein’s Doctor Faustus Lights the Lights, Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, and William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew and The Winter’s Tale. While at Yale, she won the Herschel Williams Prize for “acting students with outstanding ability” during the 2011–12 academic year.