Academy Award winner Lupita Nyong’o has once more shattered the glass ceiling for Kenyan actresses by clinching a nomination for the Tony Awards, the Oscars equivalent of stage plays and theatre performances.
Nyong’o has been nominated in the Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play category for her outstanding performance in Eclipsed, a play about the Liberian civil war.
The play, which was released to critical acclaim on Broadway, follows the lives of five African women held captive as sex slaves of a Liberian general.
Nyong’o plays the role of one of these wives.
This is the first play on Broadway to have an all-woman cast, as well as a female writer and director.
Nyong’o recently defended her decision to appear in a play as opposed to the silver screen, saying she was at liberty to chose the kind of work she wanted to do without being criticised for it.
“I turned down a few projects to pursue this one. I knew there was a sense of what was expected of me, but this play felt so important to me that I had to do it, expectations be damned,” she wrote earlier this week in an opinion piece for The Lenny Letter, a newsletter run by American writer and actress Lena Dunham.
She was responding to a question by a Hollywood reporter during a press conference to celebrate the play’s debut.
The reporter had asked: “Why would such a big star choose to do such a small play?”
Nyong’o tore down the argument that plays are less important than movies, saying she was not willing to accept any role for the sake of appearing in a movie.
“As an actress, feeling connected to a fully realised, complex character is what I look for first. The size of the role, and the budget, and the perceived ‘buzz around the project are much less important to me,” she said.
“So often women of colour are relegated to playing simple tropes: the sidekick, the best friend, the noble savage, or the clown. We are confined to being a simple and symbolic peripheral character — one who doesn’t have her own journey or emotional landscape,” she added.
She also challenged the subtle racism that follows black women in Hollywood, whereby they are seen to be less capable of making correct decisions for themselves.
Women of colour
“I think as women, as women of colour, as black women, too often we hear about what we ‘need to do.’ How we need to behave, what we need to wear, what’s deemed as too much or not enough, the cultural politics of what society considers appropriate for us and for our lives. What I am learning is that the most important questions you can ask yourself are ‘What do I want?’ and ‘Who do I want to become?’” she posed.
Nyong’o is Kenya’s best known actress after winning an Oscar for her role as a slave girl in the movie 12 Years a Slave.
She has also appeared in the latest instalment of the mega movie franchise, Star Wars, where she played a 1,000-year-old alien called Maz Kanata.
The Tony Awards are considered the most prestigious in theatre in the US.
The award ceremony this year will be held on June 12.