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After the Oscar: Filmmakers Who Could Have a Director-Muse Relationship With Lupita Nyong'o

by Jai Tiggett
March 3, 2014 2:12 PM
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For months, there's been buzz about Lupita Nyong'o's talent, her style, and the desire for her to have a lengthy career beyond her breakout role in 12 Years A Slave. Now that she's won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, the big question is what she's going to do next.

No doubt, like director Steve McQueen, she must have several offers on the table after last night's win. But what I'd love to see is for Nyong'o to become a muse to someone, to develop a longstanding relationship with a director on a series of projects that solidify both their careers.

Actors and directors form these kinds of bonds all the time, which tend to be mutually beneficial, meaning more and higher profile work for both parties. Consider Robert De Niro and Martin Scorcese, Jennifer Lawrence and David O. Russell, Catherine Keener and Nicole Holofcener, Michael Fassbender and Steve McQueen.

But whether it's due to a lack of power or a lack of interest, black actors and creatives rarely show that kind of allegiance to each other. Outside of the Spike Lee/Denzel Washington relationship that lasted for many years and films, I can't recall one as solid.

Given the lack of opportunities for black actresses in general, it seems Nyong'o would fare best with someone who knows how to use her aesthetically, and who's consistently making work in which she can shine. Here's a look at a few directors that may fit the bill.

Steve McQueen

An obvious choice after working with Nyong'o on 12 Years A Slave. So far, the two have had nothing but high praise for each other, with Nyong'o calling her experience with 12 Years, "the joy of my life."

Still, McQueen has made it pretty clear that he's already found a muse in Michael Fassbender, who has starred in all three of his features. Whether he's interested in making a woman-led film, or possibly several starring Nyong'o, remains to be seen.

Amma Asante

Besides 12 Years, Amma Asante's Belle was another buzzed-about period piece with a black protagonist, by a black director, to premiere at the 2013 Toronto Film Festival. Starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw as a mixed race aristocrat, the film will be released by Fox Searchlight this spring.

Asante, who won the BAFTA for her 2004 debut, A Way of Life, is a triple threat in film as Nyong'o, and began her career as an actor before going on to write and direct.

Ava DuVernay

In the realm of black women's voices, DuVernay has a style and sensibility that could work well for Nyong'o. The Sundance-winning director has been on a hot streak lately, directing an episode of soapy ABC drama Scandal and boarding MLK biopic Selma with Paramount Pictures and exec producer Oprah Winfrey.

Her sophomore film, the smoldering Middle of Nowhere, especially comes across as the kind of drama that Nyong'o describes as her "sweet spot."

Andrew Dosunmu

In his films Restless City and Mother of George, Dosunmu worked with cinematographer Bradford Young to create dazzling images of black bodies and emotion on screen. Their treatment of dark skin, natural hair and bold colors could pair stunningly with Nyongo's look and talent. Up next Dosunmu, whose background is in photography, is set to bring his skills to Focus Features' Fela Kuti biopic.

A Nigerian native, Dosunmu's also shown a commitment to exploring the African experience in the U.S., which could make for a great collaboration with Kenyan-raised Nyong'o. Of all the possible options for Nyong'o, a teaming with Dosunmu and Young is the one I'd be most excited about.

What directors or projects would you like to see Lupita Nyong'o take on, now that she's won the Oscar?

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  • anon | April 23, 2014 10:48 AMReply

    Her production company has bought the rights to the book americanah as well as staring in the leading role so looks like lupita is doing it for herself!

  • PMF | April 7, 2014 3:57 PMReply

    plus ça change...

    I know I will get flack for this comment and it is not central to this discussion but I couldn't help but feel dismay I always feel when I see successful black men with their white partners. Steve McQueen and Chewitel Ejiofor made me feel as though all of this is just an intellectual exercise. Talking black sleeping white as they say.

  • JJG | April 16, 2014 3:06 PM

    While of course Steve McQueen and Chewitel Ejiofor's genetics and life experiences inform their absolutely amazing artistry, in all the interviews and speeches that I've heard Steve McQueen and Chewitel Ejiofor give, I've only heard them "talk" human not black, so who they sleep with is neither hypocritical, self-hating or any way anybody's business to judge about who they love or not. It's your issue, not theirs.

  • IGBO | March 27, 2014 12:26 AMReply

    An obvious pairing that has not been mentioned is with Forest Whitaker. He's done very well with female-led stories. Another would be Julie Dash.

    I also agree that Ava DuVernay might have a good pairing with Nyong'o. I don't agree with Moulin's comments here. I never felt distracted by her directing in I WILL FOLLOW or MIDDLE OF NOWHERE. If anything, she shows tremendous restraint.

  • Nadine Patterson | March 18, 2014 11:11 AMReply

    I think all of the directors mentioned above would be great collaborators for Ms. Nyong'o. As Cade says, the chemistry between an actor and a director cannot be planned. And if it does happen, then it has to be nurtured continuously. It's like falling in love. Once it happens, then you have to do the day to day work of maintaining the relationship. It's not easy, but if the director and the actor can put their ego's aside, it is well worth it!

  • Carey | March 18, 2014 8:34 PM

    Great insight and wonderful analogy!

  • Moulin | March 3, 2014 11:32 PMReply

    Amma Asante definitely. Not Ava or Andrew. Lupita needs to continue doing films that allow her shine, allows the film to also shine. I like Ava but her films seem to glory herself more than the film itself. Its hard to see the film, you only see Ava. Like Oprah, she overshadows her product. In Andrew, you only see the cinematography. Lupita needs a storyteller the Alfonso Cuarons, Spielberg, Lee Daniels. Lord give her Avatar. It will be great if she stars African women stories. That brings to mind the lady who used Kimberly Elise in Africa. The film was a bit amateurish, very good and intense storytelling, but something was missing. Biyi Bandele is also a good person to go for, Djo Munga from Viva Riva, the guy who made Slave Girl. These are edgy African filmmakers who allow their stories/films shine. Be nice to see her play Alek Wek.

  • sara | March 4, 2014 12:09 AM

    Ava allows her stories to shine AND has a signature and it's bad? White directors have a signature and they are auteurs. Hot mess logic. Ava and Lupita would equal EVERYTHING. Have Bradford Young film Lupita like they did the girl in Middle of Nowhere and it's a black cinefile's wet dream come true! This one's anyway. Make her a superhero or an investigative reporter solving a case or struggling waitress who falls in love with the sexy older man like Idris and make a black "Unfaithful" or a sweet love story with her and Michael B! Okay I'm getting carried away.

  • moulin | March 3, 2014 11:46 PM

    My apologies. The movie is not Slave Girl But War Witch, Kim Nguyen. Let's not forget Justin Chadwick, Mandela, First Grader.

  • Bread-Free | March 3, 2014 8:48 PMReply

    Lupita's fluent in Spanish. She should focus on her international cache. Hollywood isn't the endgame since she already has the Oscar. She can align herself with foreign auteurs: Pedro Almodovar and Alfonso Cuaron.

  • Ignorance Lives | March 4, 2014 3:04 PM

    I like that idea, actually.

  • Dani | March 3, 2014 7:53 PMReply

    It would be great to see her have a designer-muse relationship and land a lucrative fashion/beauty campaign.

    As for a relationship with a director, it would be great to see her work with different directors. She'll know if she wants to keep working with someone or not. That bond just can't be planned.

  • Mark | March 3, 2014 6:22 PMReply

    Hard-hitting think-tank questions on S&A!

    Next deep topic: Which Actor Could Lupita Like Totally Go For In Real Life?

  • CJJohnson | March 3, 2014 5:27 PMReply

    I am rooting for Lupita and Ava! Talk about some sultry films with women at the helm by those two! But, I agree that Lupita could end up being McQueen's muse. I believe that he will always be in her corner and work to develop her filmography as well as his own. Would be a very complimentary pairing...

  • dancelover51 | March 3, 2014 5:08 PMReply

    Fassbender may be Steve's muse currently, but Steve is loyal and I could see Lupita taking the role of his female muse. Much like David O Russell loves both Bradley and Jennifer and casts them both.

  • Cameron Bonnett | March 3, 2014 4:32 PMReply

    A women of power, intelligence, influence....Ruler of the World in the future with human extinction inevitable at the hands of our maker. She would have to convince God that our race is worth saving.

  • sydney Levine | March 3, 2014 4:07 PMReply

    Brilliant idea! I adore the work of Andrew Dosunmu. He is so fresh and original...however, I wonder if two Africans are compatible culturally. I don't know, I'm just saying...maybe too "ethnic" but not very sensitive. My choice would be Amma Asante. Belle is brilliant, beautiful, exotic and familiar at the same time. That cross-cultural mix, plus woman-to-woman, would be so exciting to watch! I love Ava DuVernay but find her quintessentially American. And she's already been with Steve McQueen and he thrives on really difficult subjects. My guess is he'll move on to some other little thought-about but very relevant subject next.

  • CareyCarey | March 3, 2014 3:56 PMReply

    BINGO! I got it! Listen up because this is the real deal.

    Okay, I think we all can agree on the film business being more about who's hot than who's the most talented. And, if we're focusing on black actor the slope gets mighty slippery. So, right now, who are the hottest "it" black actors - male & female - on the scene today. Well, without a doubt the answer is Lupita and Kevin Hart. Listen, some may not believe Kevin is funny nor talented but the bottom line says he's the big "it"-sh*t right now, so stay with me.

    Jai has already mentioned the popular directors who could ride this soul train, and since we're trying to keep this in the family, we now need popular and proven black writers. Hey, I'm tellin' y'all, I've went the distance on this "proposition". So the writers I've chosen are known in the industry (remember this is a "who you know and who knows you" business) and are currently working. In fact, 2 of them have projects that has turned heads at ABC and HBO. So, without further ado I present Courtney Lilly, Bashir Salahuddin, Kriss Turner and Kenya Barris. Now tell me they ain't plugged and carrying mega-juice. Come on now, we're talkin' The Bernie Mac Show, Living Single, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, Everybody Hates Chris, Arrested Development, Soul Food (the TV series), Girlfriends, and The Game, and America's Next Top Model. That's talent and juice, it's a no-brainer, those black folks are at the end of the line, and thus, a perfect fit for my proposal.

    Speaking of a black man pitching a proposal, it has been said anytime a person of color (read black folks) submits a script for consideration to the powers that be, said script is incomplete if a bonifide star or a current "it" person is not attached. But hey, we got that covered, right? forget about it, it does not get any "it-her-him-ish" than Kevin and Lupita. So now the train is moving along, directors (check), actors (check), writers (check), studio interests (check), but now we need a script. BINGO.... we already have one hot on the press. So excuse me, move aside Tracee Ellis Ross and Anthony Anderson, no offense intended but Kevin and Lupita are about to take your place in Kenya Barris's "Black-ish"!

    "A tv sit-com, Carey, really?"

    That's right and slow your roll. Many of the great directors have and are currently working in television. The same can be said for actors. In fact, both Ava DuVernay and Lupita have wet their feet in and been paid by tv. And, actually, this is the best way to go for all involved. Let's face it, if your skin is black the opportunity to find consistent work is few and far between. So it just makes perfect sense to snag a handsome paying tv gig while always keeping a movie career a close-by option.

    So back to "Black-ish"! Isn't Lupita's personality a perfect fit for the black character who finds themself in the situation of always being the only black face in the crowd? And can't you see Kevin Hart being her boss or manager or even her husband? :<) I can!

    I haven't read Kenya's script, but I envision endless storylines. And, as I said, this package is tight and ready to go - thee gangs all here. There's absolutely no holes in this proposal - that I can see... what about you?

    But wait, can't you see the face of a studio exec when you say you have a script and a few friends you'd like him or her to meet. And then you walk in with Ava-Steve, Kevin, Lupita and Oscar - WOW. I think it on. Pencil, paper (contracts) and money would be the next topics of discussion. Think not? Why not?

  • . | March 3, 2014 3:59 PM

    Opps... those black folks are at the head of the class, not "at the end of the line"

  • JLS | March 3, 2014 3:53 PMReply

    With many of the meaty dramatic roles being in television now, would it be a good look for her to keep an eye out for that great television opportunity? I certainly heard rumblings on social media last night that the likes of House of Cards are on par with many of the Oscar nominees. Not a knock on the film makers above (most of whom I absolutely adore), but television could provide the weight in roles many of us are hoping for her with greater visibility.

  • jai | March 3, 2014 5:31 PM

    I'm sure she's considering TV along with everything else. TV is where everyone wants to be right now, but that's partly because the content has gotten better. Cable networks that no one was paying attention to a few years ago, had the room to make edgier content and now they've taken over, along with web.

    But as long as good films are being made on a reasonable budget, as we've seen with so many award-winners this year, they'll make money and go on. All of the above directors have shown they can do that.

  • dancelover51 | March 3, 2014 5:11 PM

    The line between television and movies is not concrete anymore so Lupita could oscillate back and forth between the two mediums. I agree that television actually has the best material for character driven work and it would be wise for her weigh television options just as much as movie opportunities.

  • Kite Davis | March 3, 2014 3:08 PMReply

    Having won such high accolades so early in her career, it's important that Lupita does not dissipate her energy and the respect she has earned with meaningless roles in forgettable movies. Better not to work for 5 years and then return in another exciting and worthwhile role. It's both the price and responsibility of such a talent.

    Lupita? They are calling you an artist. But how do you see yourself in 5 years? Another B-lister who once won an Oscar? Or do you wanna be known only for great roles? Decisions, decisions. It all starts today.

  • cade | March 3, 2014 2:48 PMReply

    Obviously, creating an actor/director relationship is an organic process that can begin at any time during the lengthy career that now beckons. The crux, actually, is that Lupita is able to express the full range of her talent and skills in future roles. It can't be planned but a lot of what happens is down to the choices she makes. Is she going to carry on accepting roles in fodder like Non-Stop? Or is she going to now actively seek out projects and filmmakers with serious artistic values?

    Whichever road she chooses will hold rewards and pitfalls. But the truly great acting talents of the last half-century, in general, chose roles in keeping with an ethos that meant quality work in quality films.

    An actor can develop a brand and a faithful audience but it's a risky proposition if one is not proactively seeking out projects and fresh filmmaking talent to collaborate with.

    For my money, her best move is to take a step away from the rush of offers that will come and use that space to make crucial decisions that will nurture both her own creative expression and establish her as a known and quality brand. This is what actors like Robert de Niro, Meryl Streep et al, have successfully implemented. Is she in that class? Time will tell.

  • CareyCarey | March 18, 2014 9:05 PM

    I concur with LL2, excellent insight, great advise. I've been told if one wishes to be like________*fill in the blank*, they MUST do like___________*repeat name*

    At this junction in Lupita's journey/career she holds all the right cards ( i.e, proven talent, Oscar win, accepted by all (read whites), no financial burdens, ) consequently, I would add that she consider the words of the S.O.S. band:

    You know you ought to slow down
    You been working too hard and that's a fact
    Sit back and relax a while
    Take some time to laugh and smile

    Lay your heavy load down
    So we can stop and kick back
    Now, baby we can do it
    Take the time, do it right
    We can do it, baby
    Just take your time to do it right.
    Take the time, do it right
    We can do it, baby
    Everything will be alright
    Just take the time to do it right
    You can do it, baby
    Take the time, do it right

  • LL2 | March 18, 2014 8:29 PM


    Fantastic advise, I hope she has someone on her team that thinks like you. She should follow Meryl Streep's footsteps and not strive for stardom but to do quality work.

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