Oscar winner, Lupita Nyong'o is a Kenyan-Mexican actress best known for her roles in movies like 12 Years A Slave and Black Panther. Growing up as the daughter of a well-to-do Nairobi politician, she shied away from the acting spotlight for most of her youth. She attended college in the U.S., graduating from Hampshire College, before starting 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 (2009–2012).
But she got her big break in Steve McQueen's biographical period drama 12 Years a Slave, for which she received critical acclaim. Notably, her performance in the film won several major awards, including the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, becoming the sixth black actress to win the award, the first African actress to win the award, the first Kenyan actress to win an Oscar, and the first Mexican actress to win the award. In addition, her theater performances have consistently earned her critical acclaim. Aside from acting, Nyong'o narrated the Discovery Channel docu-series Serengeti, which earned her a Primetime Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Narrator. A proponent of women’s rights, animal rights, and historic preservation, she also authored a bestselling children’s book titled Sulwe. In 2020, Nyong'o was named among Africa's "50 Most Powerful Women" by Forbes.
To hone her acting skills, Nyong’o decided to go back to school in 2010. She enrolled in a master's degree program in acting at the Yale School of Drama, beating out 950 applicants to join an exclusive class of 16 people in the prestigious program. To get in, Nyong’o spent a weekend with 32 finalists at the school, meeting with the program directors and teachers, and auditioning. At Yale, Nyong’o was known as a hardworking student who came to the school with raw talent, not having much professional experience as an actor. Yale’s Chair of the Acting Department Ron Van Lieu, who auditioned Nyong’o, says the Oscar-winner relied on "instinct and an innate sense of truthfulness” when she first started. This resulted in many Yale stage productions for the budding actress, including Gertrude Stein’s Doctor Faustus Lights the Lights, Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, and Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew and The Winter’s Tale. The success of these productions aided in earning Nyong’o a Master of Fine Arts degree in acting from Yale in 2012. That same year she also won Yale's Herschel Williams Prize for "acting students with outstanding ability."
Although her busy career has kept her from returning to her alma mater, Nyong’o clearly has more than a passing fondness for where she learned her craft. In her 2012 Oscar acceptance speech for the movie 12 Years a Slave, the actress addressed an audience of nearly 40 million people: "I want to thank my family, for your training, and the Yale School of Drama as well, for your training." In response, James Bundy, dean of the Yale School of Drama, said, "And I'm thrilled for the world, because this is only her first work to be seen after leaving Yale, and there is so much more to come. She is capable of an astonishing range of roles... whatever the medium, she will be revealing profound truths of the human condition for many years to come."