THE LUPITA EFFECT

Trigger Warning: Reading about Lupita Nyong'o may cause feelings of inadequacy.
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THE LUPITA EFFECT

 In between those pangs, however, we’re pretty sure that the 34-year-old Kenyan-Mexican actress and activist will also inspire awe, empowerment and perhaps a bit of get-up-and-go in us all, given that she’s a woman on a mission; unstoppable since she burst onto our screens as Patsey in 2013’s 12 Years a Slave.

Lupita plays Nakia, one of Black Panther’s personal guards

And, boy, what a steamroller of a breakthrough that was. Empire called it “one of the most committed big-screen debuts imaginable,” with Lupita winning the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for it – the sixth black actress to win the award, and the first African woman. Blazing a trail, Lupita is marking firsts that should, by rights, have been ticked off a long time ago, but here we are, and here she is, happy that she’s able to “use my platform to expand and diversify the African voice.”

It’s a voice that rings clear right through upcoming Marvel Studios flick, Black Panther, out in the UAE on 16 February and already basking in the glow of an unprecedented and improbable calibre of killer reviews. The first black superhero movie, it has been touted as “incredible, kinetic, purposeful. A movie about why representation and identity matters, and how tragic it is when those things are denied to people.” The timing, we think you’ll agree, could not be more perfect.

Rocking the red carpet in Halpern

“The fact that this was going to be Marvel’s first black superhero, and that he’s an African king, and the fact that we were going to be creating this really dope African country, Wakanda, and populating it with all sorts of badass African characters… it was a no-brainer, really,” Lupita tells Grazia of her decision to take the role of Nakia, a member of T’Challa/ Black Panther’s personal guard. “She’s a bit of a rebel,” Lupita laughs, “but she’s also a loyalist to her country.” A few personal parallels in there, perhaps? “I connected with her free spirit and her sense of duty,” she explains. “I love a woman who goes her own way and is independent, and I’m also really someone who depends on my family and friends and feels a connection to my people, and maybe has a sense of responsibility to make them proud. So I really related to that balancing act within oneself.”

A sense of pride, we imagine, comes pretty naturally to Lupita’s circle. Oscar wins, anti-poaching campaigns and women’s issues advocacies aside, she is famously one of the actresses who spoke out against Harvey Weinstein last year, being a pivotal part of a movement that galvanised hundreds of thousands of women – both in the public eye and and out of it – to break their silence and say #metoo.

Rocking the red carpet in Atelier Versace

“I think we could all use a dose of fantasy,” she says of the important cultural and political timing of Black Panther. “Wakanda is something to aspire to. In a sense it’s what we could be, should be, and may become. That’s worth looking at. I feel right now the world is in a moment where we could really use some inspiration, and also just a moment to forget how difficult the real world can be and focus on how hard things are for this imaginative nation called Wakanda. It’s a country that you become a citizen of if you just buy into the imagination of it. And that’s powerful; especially now.”

Rocking the red carpet in Balmain

A model society? Do go on… “It’s just an incredible world to occupy,” she continues on the dreamscape that is Wakanda. “We have a Marvel universe that is unapologetically black. And to see us occupy an African country with kings and queens and warriors is so inspiring. It’s an aspirational nation that is really rejuvenating to the human spirit. I remember coming on set and there was a tribal council scene being shot. It just gave me goosebumps because, for me, this was the image of what an African nation could have been if its development had been left to itself! And I hope that people who see this can be equally inspired. It was like healing for the African child in me to see this version of an African nation that is at the top of its game and that really has to reckon with itself what role it’s going to play with and to the rest of the world.” Something that many real-life nations are also having to ask themselves right now. Perhaps Lupita could offer some answers?

Phillips  Photos: Getty Images and supplied

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