Everyone is clamoring to see what’s next for Oscar Award winner Lupita Nyong’o. From rumors about a possible role on Star Wars, to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie hinting that Nyong’o will make an announcement soon regards to a project everyone is assuming has to do with Americanah.
Since her rise to fame after her portrayal of Patsy in 12 Years A Slave, Nyong’o has received accolades and endorsement deals. The Yale educated actress, with only two movie roles under her belt, is still basking in the limelight.
After The Oscars: Happens to Lupita Nyong’o is a recent article in The Hollywood Reporter that takes another look at the direction her career could go in. We all know Hollywood isn’t too keen on casting dark-skinned actresses, no matter how much star power potential you have. Two top Hollywood agents sat on difference sides of the fence when discussing Nyong’o’s career.
Nyong’o may have charmed Hollywood as she skillfully navigated awards season, but whether or not she’s endeared herself to the larger public — with just $56 million in domestic box office, 12 Years was an art house hit but no blockbuster — remains an open question. “I don’t think she has an audience — not yet,” says one studio executive. “And there are so few roles for women of color; those roles are just not being written.”
Further complicating Nyong’o’s prospects is the fact that her dark skin challenges an industry prejudice that traditionally has favored black actresses and performers with lighter complexions. “Would Beyonce be who she is if she didn’t look like she does?” asks TCA Jed Root talent agent Tracy Christian. “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.” Yes, she faces obstacles, agrees a prominent casting agent, 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.”
“Frankly,” says Christian, “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.”
In comparing past Oscar winners of the past, Halle Berry’s name of course came up. Even though Berry won an Oscar for Monster’s Ball, her following movies haven’t garnered her similar accolades. But some may consider Berry’s light-skin her saving grace, but one professor doesn’t exactly see it that way. Todd Boyd, a race and pop culture professor at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, doesn’t think Berry’s light-skin worked in her favor and may make success even harder for Nyong’o since she has darker skin. “If it didn’t benefit Halle Berry, 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,” says Boyd.
So far another project hasn’t been lined up for Nyong’o. The Hollywood Reporter stated that she was up for the part of Tiger Lily in Joe Wright’s upcoming reimagining of the Peter Pan story, but that role instead went to Rooney Mara.
What others haven’t mentioned is that Hollywood isn’t the end all to someone’s career. Many black actresses have had success on the Broadway stage as well, so that is also another option. In any event, only time will tell where Nyong’o’s career will take her, but I highly doubt she doesn’t have a backup plan.