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What Are Industry Insiders Saying About Lupita Nyongo's Career Prospects?

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by Tambay A. Obenson
March 27, 2014 2:37 PM
35 Comments
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Lupita Nyong'o

What will Lupita Nyong'o do next? What are Lupita Nyong'o career prospects as a black actress in Hollywood

The gazillion dollar questions of 2014, as the world anxiously waits to hear or read the first announcement revealing what the starlet's next move will be. I don't think there's ever been this much anxiety and anticipation over a young, up-and-coming black actress in the history of cinema, whose recent success (and all that has come along with) has become something of a battleground for pundits and non-pundits alike, each with arguments supporting whatever specific path Lupita should take from here-on, as well as debates over the significance of the color of her skin for an actress in her position, whether or not she's being fetishized or exotified by the mainstream media covering her, etc, etc, etc...

It's as if she's become a political figure without actually trying to be one.

I can only imagine what the last few months have been like for her, and whether she's aware of just how much conversation she's inspired and continues to inspire, if only seemingly by just being who she is, and also being good at what she does.

Since her Academy Award win a few weeks ago, she's been linked to content creators like writer/producer/showrunner Shonda Rhimes, director J.J. Abrams, and author Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie. Although nothing concrete has emerged from any of those speculations. 

As even we here at S&A have wondered, in various different articles, what the conversation around Lupita Nyong'o will evolve to become, once all the media attention starts to fade. As Raquel Lewis wrote on this blog in a piece published a month ago:

I just simply hope that a year or two from now, we're not writing pieces on this blog, and elsewhere, wondering what happened to Lupita Nyong'o's acting career. It would be an absolute shame if Hollywood, as well as independent producers, don't exploit her talent as an actress. She has the physical presence, and has displayed a vulnerability that would make her perfect for a variety of roles - from an action movie heroine, to the star of a romantic comedy, to the lead in a complex character study, to a historical drama or historical epic. 

I think Raquel voiced the thoughts of many, in that article which you can read in full HERE.


Today, The Hollywood Reporter published an item titled "After Oscar, What Happens to Lupita Nyong'o?" in which the industry magazine talked to a number of industry insiders, asking that very question. I collected some of the replies given in the piece, and embedded below, so you can all read what so-called insiders, those who presumably know much more than the rest of us do, are saying about her.

- "I don't think she has an audience -- not yet... And there are so few roles for women of color; those roles are just not being written," according to one studio executive.

- "Would Beyonce be who she is if she didn't look like she does?... Being lighter-skinned, more people can look at her image and see themselves in her. In Lupita's case, I think she has two-and-half, three years. If she can find a franchise -- a Star Wars or a Bourne Identity -- a big crossover film, or if she's cast by a significant filmmaker, then she's golden, she'll have carved out a unique path for herself... Frankly she's hot enough that she can play a love interest to a Caucasian leading man, and it won't be an issue. Lupita is to film and television what Obama was to politics. She made Hollywood feel good about itself. She was a little bit of 'we shall overcome' -- charming, young, gorgeous," said TCA Jed Root talent agent Tracy Christian.

- "Yes, she faces obstacles, but they are not insurmountable. For someone who looks like her, with a distinctly black, African face, maybe she's someone who can change the direction for darker-skin actresses, actresses who are definitely not European-looking, but it may require some forward-looking director to push for her," said a prominent casting agent.

- "Everyone would love to sign her... I've hardly been in a meeting with directors where her name hasn't come up. Right now, she should be having meetings with Spielberg and Scorsese. What she should do is just work with great directors," said one top agent.

- And finally, Stephanie Allain (who I'm sure we all know), had this to say: "I've met Lupita a few times on the circuit, and what fascinates me about her is her intellect... She could play a neurosurgeon or somebody with Asperger's. I would imagine the opportunities that will present themselves to her will be varied and won't necessarily involve a superhero outfit, though she would also be awesome in that."

- Putting a bit of a damper on things, Todd Boyd, USC's School of Cinematic Arts professor, chimed in with: "If it didn't benefit Halle Berry [speaking of winning an Oscar], who would seem to have, appearance-wise, the kind of package Hollywood likes, it's hard to imagine things are going to materialize for Lupita."

So there you have it. A mixed bag as you'd likely expect, reflecting the macro.

But if I could summarize, I'd say that the general consensus is certainly hopeful, with suggestions that there certainly is interest in her within Hollywood studio executive suites, and it might take a strong director (or directors) with vision, casting her in a project or two (or three; maybe a franchise) to get her over the proverbial hump faced by black actresses who've come before her.

Read the full Hollywood Reporter piece HERE.

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35 Comments

  • Tonton Michel | April 1, 2014 8:30 AMReply

    "Frankly she's hot enough that she can play a love interest to a Caucasian leading man, and it won't be an issue."

    And that boys and girls is all we really want in the end. Damn the Oscar, the real win is in they arms of a white person. Validation is everything.......

  • Random Commentary | April 1, 2014 8:01 PM

    "Frankly she's hot enough that she can play a love interest to a Caucasian leading man, and it won't be an issue."

    I'm surprised that one sentence didn't go viral. Lets totally flip that sentence and make it even more controversial.

    Lupita has enough film chops and international appeal to play opposite of Jet Li, and nine figure box office receipts are essentially guaranteed.

  • Brown Bomber | March 29, 2014 10:16 AMReply

    You know what! People, when an actress "Black, African American, Person of Colour" what ever we want to call it. It, being US! Wins a major award this is what we are SUPPOSED to do! It called CELEBRATING achievements and acknowledging someone's work. Don't act be grudgingly because it goes on pass a month or so! Academy Awards, were March 3rd! It's still March! So let's just chill and go with the acknowledgement of Lupita! :-)

    This is exactly why we hear the older people say "we can't get nowhere" cause the moment we elevate one person. It's as though we have elevated one above another.

  • Random Commentary | March 29, 2014 11:22 AM

    I actually acknowledged and congratulated her win. There's also a such thing as over-saturation.

    "Frankly she's hot enough that she can play a love interest to a Caucasian leading man, and it won't be an issue."

    This quotation above brought up by QUEEN2CENT. Needs to be repeated and examined. This reminds me when Gabourey Sidibe requested Leonardo DiCaprio be her date for the Oscars. I'm waiting for the article from Shadow and Act saying Barkhad Abdi would be an excellent leading man love interest of Paula Patton.

    There's a lot of fantasy wishful thinking when it comes to Lupita. I hate to pull the wool from peoples eyes but her press coverage on this site is because she's dark skin. Not because of her win, not because of her acting ability, but because of her skin complexion.

    Other members have brought up she's not the only dark skin actress to walk the planet. I agree.

    Nobody is trying to dim her spotlight. I hope she gets actual roles and not constant prospect speculation this website feels she deserves and not audition and earn.

  • Queen2Cent | March 29, 2014 3:13 AMReply

    "Frankly she's hot enough that she can play a love interest to a Caucasian leading man, and it won't be an issue."

    Yippie, you here that Black Women. Because of Lupita, we're getting White Men's approval. I can hardly contain my damn self. SMGDH!!!

  • queen2cent | March 29, 2014 2:10 PM

    *hear*

  • Random Commentary | March 28, 2014 8:49 AMReply

    Is this website Lupita's PR firm? There seems to be a concerted effort to keep her name out there. If she had a multitude of films lined up I could understand the constant coverage. There are a multitude of dark skinned African American, Caribbean, Canadian, South American, European, and even African actresses (with an extensive filmography) that don't get the constant coverage she gets on this website.

  • LL2 | March 28, 2014 2:39 PM

    Lupita's PR team is on twitter not on Shadow and Act but I agree they do post about her a lot. It would be nice if they give Lupita the space to figure out what she wants to do and stopped being so overly interested in her career.

  • Rocket | March 28, 2014 2:19 PM

    "Is this website Lupita's PR firm?"

    Not throwing shade, but it does feel like it sometimes.

  • Audiodramatist | March 28, 2014 7:44 AMReply

    Hopefully, she will be able to do Hollywood and also use her fame and talent(s) to do significant films in Africa and the Spanish speaking world.
    And speaking of that... She should also work with Pedro Almodóvar as soon as possible.

  • dan the man | March 27, 2014 9:43 PMReply

    I understand that everyone wants Lupita to succeed in this industry, but why are we measuring success based solely on blockbuster films and A-list directors? If she wants to make independent films or do theater all her life then that is fine with me. Has anyone even asked Lupita what direction she wants to take her career? She probably has no interest becoming an A-list star. I think she should model her career after Cate Blanchett, and actress who has a strong appreciation for the art of film making and not necessarily its bottom line.

  • LL2 | March 28, 2014 2:35 PM

    I co-sign your comment. Cate Blanchett won for her role in "Blue Jasmine" and it wasn't a major blockbuster. It made only $33 million in the U. S. People need to stop being so anxious over Lupita's career and give her the space to decide what is best for her. She is here to live her life not have people live vicariously through her and/or project their dreams and/or expectations onto her.

  • JTC | March 27, 2014 9:24 PMReply

    Without seriously gifted black writers and directors finding a way to put themselves in position to get their films made, there will be limited opportunities for black actors and actresses to play the kind of roles which define careers. Very limited.

  • scripttease | March 29, 2014 11:06 AM

    @BoomSlang... tell the truth and shame the devil.

  • Boomslang | March 28, 2014 7:28 AM

    But there are plenty of black writers out there . Black writers have NEVER written a part for an african female , let alone a strong dark skinned female. She is just not the type african american directors would hire. Black americans favor the Halle and Beyonces of this world .

    I hope Ava Du Vernet or Euzhan Palcy will snap her up . But my suggestion to Lupita , never expect african americans directors to throw you a bone , they deserve their own award for practicing Ebony bigotry.

  • stp | March 27, 2014 8:40 PMReply

    Hey, with no oscar what will happen to Emayatzy Corinealdi? It's not just about Lupita for christ sake!

  • Dankwa Brooks | March 27, 2014 8:25 PMReply

    As DJ said "Very little -- if anything at all -- separates Lupita from someone like Danai Gurira. Lupita just happened to get the big break with 12 Years. Gurira is equally talented, intelligent, and a highly regarded writer (playwright) in her own right. She's found a steady gig on Walking Dead, and indie films, et al."

    Danai is doing swell. She has great exposure!

    "For ad-supported cable, 'The Walking Dead' is the high-water mark. The top-rated show on TV among the advertiser-coveted 18-to-49 demographic for the past two seasons, 'Dead' now commands among the highest CPM rates on TV, at close to $350,000 for a 30-second spot during the upfront selling season, according to 'Adweek'. By comparison, buyers ponied up an average of $326,000 for a 30-second spot on CBS' 'The Big Bang Theory', the top-rated scripted show on broadcast."

  • DJ | March 28, 2014 2:19 PM

    @Dankwa Agreed. The discussion seemed to center around "prestige" career track via widely seen feature films. In that regard, Danai (armed even with a terrific tv gig and even more impressive and thoughtful theater credentials) doesn't compare. But who's to say that prestige and mega-franchise is everything. If money is solely the benchmark, we'd be talking about Goldman, Renaissance and DE Shaw.

  • Bread-Free | March 27, 2014 6:51 PMReply

    Hollywood does not commission racially neutral scripts for women. The few scripts commissioned for women are specifically written for white actresses. Nyong'o will need the benefit of superstar producers willing to build her cache with modestly budgeted but artistically lucrative projects. Nyong'o should have her team check in on auteur driven Spanish language vehicles since she's fluent. Use every asset available to make her brand internationally bank-able.

  • C | March 27, 2014 5:14 PMReply

    She needs a strong and crazy fandom too keep people talking about her and directors, all the movie industry, interested on her. Unfortunately, talent isn't enough. shame

  • Daryl | March 27, 2014 5:11 PMReply

    The thing that is missing in this piece is she just doesn't need to do hollywood films, she should do their films but also have a production company and develop projects for herself that are going to show her talent, right now I think she could get an indie project done in the 1 to 5 million dollar range. Just looking at the comments if she is dependent on hollywood to give her opportunities it's going to be a hit and miss situation. It won't because of her talent it will be because of her dark skin color and they don't know what to do with her. Yes it's about race because if it wasn't she would have the same opportunities and box office power as Jennifer Lawerence had after she broke through in the same way with the indie film Winter's Bone. I say take their money and invest in yourself, don't sit around and wait on them to show your talent.

  • DJ | March 28, 2014 2:16 PM

    @Daryl Unfortunately, not a chance. The 1-5 million film doesn't exist anymore in Hollywood. It died many deaths by way of the vanishing acts by: Paramount Vantage, ThinkFilm, even Focus. The practical industry reality is that there are franchises and there are the mythic "$500K and under" stories of mumblecore infamy. That next strata -- of low millions -- isn't worth the return by investors.

  • Daryl | March 28, 2014 9:16 AM

    Alias that why I say she should start her own production company where she is choosing and bringing the talent in for her projects.

  • Alias | March 27, 2014 5:44 PM

    @Daryl: Even in the indie world, however, she will, still, have to rely on the benevolence of a white director with a strong record to collaborate with. Unless, of course, she collaborates early with Ava DuVernay, or works again, right away with McQueen; as I can't think of any other black directors who've recently produced indie movies that have received both critical acclaim and been enthusiastically embraced by audiences.

  • DL | March 27, 2014 5:07 PMReply

    Maybe she wants to take her time and pick the right project. no rush. has anyone thought about that possibility?

  • CareyCarey | March 27, 2014 11:23 PM

    **raising my hand** I've thought of that possibility. In fact, as all the industry insiders, armchair casting agents and movie prognosticators are all running over each other as they predict Lupita's next move, I said...

    CHILL CHILD... everybody should just relax. As someone mentioned, Lupita is not the first attractive black actress to hit the scene, so what's new and what's the rush?

    Personally, I believe she is making the perfect move, patience is man's best virtue. It's safe to say she has been offered roles wrapped in fat dollar bills, but everything that glitters is not gold, don't you know. In other words, as my momma would say, all money ain't good money. So it might behoove her to take her time to do it right.

    I mean, if she's in it for the long haul, slow your roll, steady as she goes - is the way to go. Think the fable The Tortoise and The Hare.

    Some would argue it was not the Tortoise's bravery of taking on the cocky rabbit that should be emphasized but the Hare's foolish over-confidence was his demise.

    So Lupita, if you're reading along listen to ol' CareyCarey, I have a song especially for you. It's an improvised re-mixed version of the song 'Que Sera, Sera'

    When I was just a little boy
    I asked my mother
    What will I be
    Will I be handsome
    Will I be rich
    Here's what she said to me

    Que sera, sera
    Whatever will be, will be
    The future's not ours to see
    Que sera, sera
    What will be, will be

    Lupita you're such a pretty star
    Smooth, graceful, lovely to me
    Yet, the future's not ours to see
    Whatever will be, will be
    Just be free and do it for thee

    So Mr. DL, there you have it... there are some of us out here who will allow Lupita to walk her own road, even if it's one less traveled. Yep, we're leaving it up to her to spell "success" however she so desires.

    ~CareyCarey

  • JR | March 27, 2014 3:47 PMReply

    I sincerely hope - and believe - she'll fare pretty well ... it really comes down to what her next couple projects are. We've essentially only seen one performance from her, so it'll be interesting to see what else she's capable of. It would be incredible if the 'Stars Wars' rumors are true and she's cast. Not only do I think she could be great, but that'd put her front-and-center in one of the biggest franchises of all time and also give her plenty of money if she opts to go the indie route after.

    As a side note, reading this made me think of Adepero Oduye, who was truly outstanding in "Pariah" and "12 Years." I think she's just as talented as Lupita, but alas, Lupita had the showier role, the model looks and the "plucked from obscurity" backstory. Kind of interesting how big breaks happen in Hollywood ... I hope Adepero will get hers soon.

  • DJ | March 27, 2014 3:53 PM

    "It would be incredible if the 'Stars Wars' rumors are true and she's cast."

    Didn't we learn anything from Halle Berry being in Catwoman?

  • curious1 | March 27, 2014 3:37 PMReply

    These comments all assume that she has to be given her opportunities and do not consider what she may be able to create. Let us hope that she is demanding what she wants from herself and those around her. I'm sure that she will continue to surprise and delight us all and that the world will continue to respond to her incredible qualities.

  • Brown Bomber | March 29, 2014 10:04 AM

    @DJ Star Wars and Catwoman is not comparing "like for like". Catwoman was a stand alone movie, not part of a respected franchise, that has stood the test of time (Star Wars).

    Any role that Lupita, and her people would agree to in Star Wars would be considerable and significant to be worth her while.

    Catwoman was clearly a mistake, but the time everyone was not thinking so when they knew the significance of Eartha Kitt, and Halle, "in essence righting any wrongs" that were perceived to have been done to Eartha, back in the day. How it was made is the problem!

  • DJ | March 27, 2014 2:51 PMReply

    Very little -- if anything at all -- separates Lupita from someone like Danai Gurira. Lupita just happened to get the big break with 12 Years. Gurira is equally talented, intelligent, and a highly regarded writer (playwright) in her own right. She's found a steady gig on Walking Dead, and indie films, et al. but of course, the same industry questions aren't being posed of her because--? Must be monumentally frustrating...

  • LL2 | March 28, 2014 2:44 PM

    @Devlin

    Its not just her PR team creating hype, websites like this that constantly post about her also contribute to the hype. I like the fact that it seems Lupita has disappeared from the spotlight for now. She's not giving interviews or doing public appearances. Yet websites like this won't let her go and constantly find a reason to post something about her. The Hollywood Reporter seems to be doing the same thing.

  • Devlin | March 28, 2014 12:12 PM

    Exactly. Of course, what everyone seems to sidestep about Nyong'o is that she has an incredibly powerful PR machine backing her...unbelievable, really. Everyone speaks of her "INCREDIBLE TALENT"!!!...based on ONE film? (LOL!). I wonder...can Nyong'o do comedy?...action adventure?...anything else besides 12 YAS?. We'll see...the woman deserves the opportunity absolutely, but everyone also needs to tone it down and remember that so much of Nyong'o is hype.

  • M. | March 28, 2014 12:02 PM

    JulieB: There is a hell of a lot that separates Stewart from an actress like Jennifer Lawrence...it's the fact that Jennifer Lawrence is incredibly talented (with the critical acclaim and awards to prove it) Stewart has...Twilight. as far as Nyong'o is concerned...she more than likely has Star Wars...she'll be fine.

  • JulieB | March 27, 2014 3:35 PM

    Very little separates every white actress on tv from people like Kristen Stewart, Jennifer Lawrence, and others, talent wise. It's all about opportunity and exposure. The truth is, level of success does not equal level of talent. Lupita had the right exposure at the right time, that's key. Danai is eating well and has multiple talents, so im not too worried about her.

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