If you have never heard of Lupita Nyong’o, it is entirely possible that you have been lying with your head under the sand. From her breathtaking debut role in “12 Years a Slave” to her nomination as “World’s Most Beautiful Person” in People Magazine, Lupita is enjoying one of the swiftest ascents to fame witnessed in recent years.

Hollywood is a fickle place; that much is known with certainty by people around the globe. Breaking into television and film roles in the worldwide capital of entertainment can be difficult, especially for those who don’t fit the preconceived mould for beauty that has been established over the course of almost a century in Hollywood. Take one look at the average film or television cast coming out of Hollywood, and you will find a group that consists largely of individuals with fair skin, long flowing hair, and impeccable beauty that matches the arbitrary idea of beauty that most hold in their mind. Every now and then, however, the world is graced by the true concept of beauty. Lupita Nyong’o is the latest “it” girl in Hollywood, and her true and simple beauty is turning heads on screen and in advertisements.

From Humble Beginnings

Lupita Amondi Nyong’o was born to Dorothy and Peter Anyang’ Nyong’o on 1 Mar ch 1983 in Mexico City, Mexico. Both Dorothy and Peter Nyong’o were born and raised in Kenya, but the family happened to be living in Mexico City in 1983 when Lupita (the second of six children) was born. Mr. Nyong’o, a former Minister for Medical Services in Kenya’s government, was serving as a political science guest lecturer at El Colegio de Mexico in 1983 when Lupita was born. Today, Mr. Nyong’o serves in the Kenyan Senate as a representative of Kisumu County, while Mrs. Nyong’o works as the managing director and head of public relations at the Africa Cancer Foundation. Both of Lupita’s parents come from the Luo ethnic group located in western Kenya, eastern Uganda, and the Mara Region of Tanzania. The Luo people represent the third largest ethnic population in Kenya behind the Kikuyu and Luhya. As an ethnic group, the Luo people are believed to have originated in southern Sudan, migrating to Kenya in the early 1500s. Lupita’s diverse upbringing and family background has given her a rich linguistic background that includes fluency in Luo, English, Spanish, and Swahili. During her childhood, Lupita’s family moved from Mexico City to New York City, briefly, before returning to Nairobi, Kenya. She grew up in a middle class region of Nairobi for the vast majority of her childhood, with the exception of a seven month stint at the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico in T axco, Guerrero, Mexico where her parents sent her to learn Spanish.

Lupita Nyong'o at the 86th Academy Awards at Dolby Theater, Hollywood & Highland, Los Angeles. Photo: Helga Esteb

Lupita Nyong’o at the 86th Academy Awards at Dolby Theater, Hollywood & Highland, Los Angeles. Photo: Helga Esteb

An Artistic Background Lights a Fire Within

Lupita’s family was extremely artistic, and while growing up, her family gatherings often featured theatrical and musical performances by the children of the family. Her first experience on stage came at the all-girls school she attended as a youth in Kenya. Following that minor role, in Oliver Twist, Lupita got her first professional shot as Juliet in Romeo and Juliet. The production was put on by Phoenix Players, a theatrical company based in Nairobi. Following graduation from St. Mary’s School in Nairobi, Lupita headed to the United States for college and the beginning of a brilliant rise to fame. First, she graduated from Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts with a degree in film and theatre studies. After completing her coursework at Hampshire College, she worked on a number of films as part of the production crew. The time she spent as a member of production crew, which included work on the set of The Constant Gardener (Fernando Meir elles) and The Namesake (Ralph Fiennes/Mira Nair), built upon the desire to act that had developed as a young child performing for her family members.

Although Lupita returned to Kenya for television and independent film roles in 2008 and 2009, she eventually returned to the U.S. for a graduate degree. In 2012, she graduated from the Yale School of Drama with a Master’s degree in acting. While attending Yale, Lupita performed on stage in Doctor Faustus Lights the Lights, Uncle Vanya, The Taming of the Shrew, and The Winter’s Tale. Near the end of her time at Yale, Lupita landed the breakthrough role that made her a household name in the U.S. and around the world. Just before graduating, she was cast in her feature film debut role as Patsey in Steve McQueen’s historical drama 12 Years a Slave. The film followed the tale of Solomon Northrup, an African-American who had been born free but sold into slavery in 1841. As Patsey, Lupita’s character worked alongside Northrup in the cotton fields and earned her rave reviews for her performance. Lupita’s performance as Patsey earned her numerous award nominations following the movie’s release in 2013. She ended up winning two major awards during award season, including the Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Supporting Actress and the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. She was just the sixth black actress to win the award and the first African and Kenyan woman to do so.

Chiwetel Ejiofor and Lupita Nyong'o at the GQ "Men Of The Year" Party at Wilshire Ebell in Los Angeles, CA. Photo: Helga Esteb

Chiwetel Ejiofor and Lupita Nyong’o at the GQ “Men Of The Year” Party at Wilshire Ebell in Los Angeles, CA. Photo: Helga Esteb

Redefining Beauty in Hollywood

Lupita’s star has been on a straight vertical ascent since her appearance in 12 Years a Slave. In April 2014, she was named People Magazine’s “Most Beautiful Person in the World”. For a woman who credits Oprah Winfrey and Whoopi Goldberg as inspirations for her professional acting career, winning the award not only helped Lupita challenge the preconceived notion of beauty in Hollywood, but also allowed her to gain greater comfort in her own skin. In an interview with People Magazine, she admitted that she never saw herself as fitting the Hollywood mould for beauty. Per the interview with People: “beauty was what I saw on television, you know, light skin and long, flowing, straight hair. Subconsciously you start to appreciate those things more than what you possess”. Following her massive success and meteoric rise, Lupita has become a must have commodity in and out of Hollywood. She appeared alongside Liam Neeson and Julianne Moore in Non-Stop in February 2014, and has become the darling of fashion designers and makeup lines. In early 2014, she was selected as a face of the Miu Miu spring fashion line, and in April 2014 was named the new face of Lancome Paris alongside Hollywood leading ladies Julia Roberts, Penelope Cruz, and Kate Winslet.

Lupita Nyong'o arrives at the 2014 MTV Movie Awards in Los Angeles, CA. Photo: DFree

Lupita Nyong’o arrives at the 2014 MTV Movie Awards in Los Angeles, CA. Photo: DFree