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Get Familiar w/ Lupita Nyong'o's Past Work Before Seeing Her Lauded Performance In '12 Years A Slave'

Photo of Tambay A. Obenson By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act September 20, 2013 at 10:06AM

All the excitement that her breakout performance in Steve McQueen's 12 Years A Slave has generated since the film debuted at Telluride and Toronto, both over the last month, has naturally led some to wonder about this young black actress who few knew of previously, and who has seemingly, rapidly captured the hearts of film writers everywhere.
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Lupita

All the excitement that her breakout performance in Steve McQueen's 12 Years A Slave has generated since the film debuted at Telluride and Toronto, both over the last month, has naturally led some to wonder about this young black actress who few knew of previously, and who has seemingly, rapidly captured the hearts of film writers everywhere.

Looking over her IMDB page, the Kenyan actress has primarily crew credits on a few projects, but little in the acting department. Although on her Twitter page, she lists herself as an actor first, a graduate of Yale School of Drama.

Well, something tells me that Lupita Nyong'o's life is about to change, as more audiences become familiar with her name and face, with the film that's on everyone's lips opening in just about a month.

But let me not get ahead of myself...

Jasmin interviewed Lupita last weekend - an interview that will be published some time before 12 Years A Slave opens in theaters in October, so look out for that piece.

I also got to interview Steve McQueen, albeit for a very brief 10 minutes, during which I we talked about his casting of Lupita. That interview will be published likely next week.

In the meantime, what I learned in my digging into her background is that we actually profiled a project she acted in, first in 2010 and then again in early 2011, when it resurfaced. Her name wasn't specifically mentioned in any of those posts, but her face most certainly was included in photos within the post, which helped remind me of her, when I googled her name and saw a poster for the MTV Ignite Staying Alive project titled Shuga (photo above of Lupita with co-stars).

The first Shuga series (comprised of 3 twenty-four minute episodes) was filmed in Kenya in August/September 2009, starring a young cast of upcoming Kenyan actors and actresses, telling bitter-sweet tales of love, loss, sex and relationships, set in the clubs, bars, campuses and other hangouts of contemporary Nairobi - the intent being to give a raw view on the lives of sexually active young Kenyans, and highlight the risks associated with unprotected sex and the careless lifestyles of today's Kenyan youth, told through interconnected storylines.

Comparisons to Stateside MTV series were made, giving it labels like "Real World: Kenya" (it's set in Nairobi, Kenya - locally shot and produced), although it's not a reality TV series. It's all scripted drama, and, as you will see in the episodes below, was very much made for the young MTV crowd (not that that's a bad thing).

Lupita stars, playing Ayira in the first series of Shuga, and she then moved on to co-direct the follow-up, Shuga: Love, Sex, Money.

Watch episodes of Shuga at the bottom of this post.

She's what you'd call a triple-threat, in that she not only acts, but she also writes and directs. 

In fact, last year, we featured a documentary she directed, titled In My Genes, which screened at the Maysles Institute (in NYC), last fall, in an event presented by Doc Watchers.

What's the feature documentary about? Here's a synopsis:

The first feature-length documentary by talented Kenyan director Lupita Nyong'o, In My Genes, follows eight individual Kenyans who have one thing in common: they were born with albinism, a genetic condition that causes a lack of pigmentation. In many parts of Africa, including Kenya, it is a condition that marginalizes, stereotypes, and even endangers those who have it. Though highly visible in a society that is predominantly black, the reality of living with albinism is invisible to most. Through her intimate portraits, Ms. Nyong'o lets us see their challenges, their humanity, and their everyday triumphs.

A trailer for the documentary is at the bottom of this post.

Up next for Lupita, what some may not be aware of is that she booked a supporting role in the Liam Neeson airplane thriller, Non-Stop, which Jaume Collet-Serra directed. Collet-Serra directed Neeson in Unknown last year, so that should give you some idea of what kind of film to expect.

Lupita plays a supporting role in the film, which also features the acting talents of Nate ParkerJulianne MooreMichelle Dockery and of course Neeson in the Universal Pictures release that will see Neeson as an air marshal who takes on an American terrorist threatening to kill a flight passenger every 20 minutes, unless the marshal kills himself.

Lupita plays an air hostess named Gwen in the film.

The movie, which was shot last year, is set for a January 2014 release.

What else might she have coming? It's a question you'll have to wait to read the answer for, because, even though her IMDB page doesn't list any other upcoming work, I can only assume that it won't take long after 12 Years A Slave opens (a film for which many critics predict she'll receive a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for), for Ms Nyong'o to find herself attached to other projects.

At least, we hope...

Although there's a chance that Jasmin's interview with Lupita will answer that question - at least, in part.

So while you wait for 12 Years A Slave to come to a theater near you on, on October 18, or after, get familiar with Lupita's past work.

First, watch a trailer for In My Genes below, the documentary she directed (followed by poster, and CNN interview with Lupita). And after that, watch all 3 episodes of Shuga for a glimpse at the abilities of the young lady who'll be gracing our movie theater screens next month, playing Patsey in 12 Years A Slave - a role that I've already said is quite significant; and while all the parts in the film can be described as demanding, I'd say that hers (aside from the star of the film) is probably the most complex and challenging. And having seen the film myself, I can tell you that she meets the challenge.

Watch a trailer for In My Genes below (followed by a CNN interview with Lupita).

The Lupita section begins at around the 3-minute mark:

Watch all 3 episodes of Shuga below:

Episode 1:

Shuga Episode 1 from mtv staying alive on Vimeo.

Episode 2:

Shuga Episode 2 from mtv staying alive on Vimeo.

Episode 3: 

Shuga Episode 3 from mtv staying alive on Vimeo.


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