Lupita Nyong'o Talks Diversity, Staying Focused, and Staying on Top
Inside the April issue of InStyle, actress and fashion icon Lupita Nyong'o—on the cover in a dress by Proenza Schouler, earrings by Jennifer Fisher, and rings by Louis Vuitton—talks candidly with writer Logan Hill about dodging the Oscar curse, diversity in Hollywood, and making an impact onscreen and off. Read parts of the interview below, and watch the behind-the-scenes video from the cover shoot above. To see the full feature, pick up the April issue of InStyle, available on newsstands and for digital download March 18.
"Lupita, let’s not embarrass ourselves here,” Lupita Nyong’o whispers to herself, as she raises a long wooden bow, loads an arrow, and aims it at the paper bull’s-eye. It misses, her arrow piercing the target’s outermost ring.
“Don’t be so nervous,” says her instructor.
For a moment it’s looking as if Nyong’o might be regretting her choice of interview venue, a drafty archery range in Brooklyn’s Gowanus neighborhood. She picked the spot because she prefers “shared experiences” to the requisite sit-down interrogation. She got the idea for a Hunger Games–style meet-up when she overheard a man ask a woman to shoot arrows on their first date. “I respected that,” she says. “Most first dates are so boring.”
“I do have a very competitive streak,” she says. That’s not surprising given the 33-year-old Oscar winner’s career arc. In the three years since 12 Years a Slave, Nyong’o has acted in the global smash Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the Broadway play Eclipsed, and two upcoming Disney films—Jon Favreau’s live-action The Jungle Book (in theaters April 15) and Mira Nair’s chess-prodigy drama, Queen of Katwe (out this fall).
With the whole world watching, she admits the prospect of falling short has been scary. “Right after the Oscars, I had no idea what I was going to do next. Zero clue,” Nyong’o says, sipping her tea and tensing up a bit. “There’s a part of me that thought my life would go back to normal. Like at school. But it didn’t. I did not get out of that unscathed, you know?”
Nyong’o particularly feared what some call the Oscar curse, especially as it relates to best supporting actress.
“They go on to appear in bomb after bomb after bomb,” she says.
It’s hard for any actress to succeed, but nonwhite actresses have to weather discrimination and distractions that others don’t. I ask Nyong’o what she makes of the previous day’s news that Spike Lee and Jada Pinkett Smith are boycotting the Oscars over the lack of diversity among its nominees. Nyong’o, the last person of color to win an Oscar for acting before two years of #OscarsSoWhite protests, has been thinking it through.
“It’s a disappointment that the nominations this year have not reflected some of the work of people of color, and I hope this moment helps fuel that conversation,” she says, respectful of the Academy (94 percent white) that honored her but critical of an industry that is now under scrutiny for discrimination. “There is a real imbalance, from the very creation of the stories and who’s telling them, how, and why. Change has to happen with the writers, the studio, the marketers, the directors. That’s got to be diversified because there is a hunger for the expansion of the role of people of color in the center of narratives.”
A few hours after our interview, the actress posts a similar statement on Instagram and becomes one of Hollywood’s most prominent voices in the discussion. “I’m not throwing away my shot,” she says, quoting Lin-Manuel Miranda’s revolutionary (and revolutionarily diverse) musical Hamilton about founding father Alexander Hamilton. She’s seen it three times and says she showers to the sound track. Like Miranda’s Hamilton, Nyong’o is young, ambitious, and determined to make an impact.
“Both my parents raised me to pursue the things that make me feel most alive—what you feel called to do—because that’s how you can have the most effect,” she says. “That allowed me to get passionate about something that can sometimes seem as inconsequential as acting and then find important things to do with it.”
For more from Nyong'o, including how she's making an impact, pick up the April issue of InStyle, available on newsstands and for digital download March 18. To see her model looks by Prada, Fendi, and more, watch the video above.