Lupita Nyong’o’s decision to chose Broadway over Hollywood paid off on Tuesday, when her play Eclipsed earned six Tony nominations. But in a new essay, the Oscar winner reveals she always knew the transition to the stage was the right choice for her.
“This question felt quite silly. I mean, I’m an actress; why wouldn’t I want to be in an incredible, gorgeous, meaty piece about the complicated choices of women during wartime?” she writes.
“But then it went deeper than that. To me it felt like a question about our value system in this culture, the ways we define success for ourselves as well as others.”
Nyong’o writes that she turned down several movie roles to pursue the lead in Eclipsed, which tells the story of five women trapped by a rebel commander during the Liberian Civil War in 2003. She explains that the play, which features an all-black, female cast, meant more to her than playing a supporting character in a major film.
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Since winning her best supporting actress Oscar two years ago, Nyong’o has yet to appear in a live-action role, opting instead for voice acting work in movies like The Jungle Book and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. “I’m able to be more engaged in roles such as those than I would be in playing ‘the wife’ when she is written with no motivation or singularity,” she explains.
“As an African woman, I am wary of the trap of telling a single story … The chance to appear in Eclipsed after winning an Oscar was an opportunity to share in the incredible (and too rare) freedom of playing a fully rendered African woman. The playwright, Danai Gurira, has conceived a drama where the only people onstage are women … So often women of color 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.”
While she does have several upcoming film roles planned, the actress says she continues to cherish her work onstage, especially in a cast of “all women of African descent.” She adds, “I see a work of incredible power that is transforming lives by daring to offer women of color fully rendered narratives, and I feel so lucky to be a part of it.”
Nyong’o took to Instagram on Tuesday to celebrate Eclipse’s success.
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“I am deeply proud to be nominated for my work in Danai Gurira’s Tony-nominated Eclipsed,” she captioned, along with a photo of the cast. “My performance could not exist without the brilliance of my iron clad co-stars Pascale Armand, Akosua Busia, Zainab Jah, and Saycon Sengbloh, with the direction of Liesl Tommy. Our hope is to awaken something in the consciousness of our audience to effect change around the world. The six Tony nominations Eclipsed has received today gives me hope that we are succeeding.”
Eclipsed is currently playing on Broadway, and Nyong’o can next be seen in Mira Nair’s biopic The Queen of Katwe, which opens Sept. 23 in limited release.