Let me put all my cards down on the table. I want Lupita Nyong’o to succeed beyond her wildest dreams. I want her to enjoy a career like Jessica Chastain’s — another actress who was discovered a bit late, but is now making up for it with her talent on screen and her grace and poise off screen. I want Lupita Nyong’o on every Hollywood short list.
But the studio system is still one in which the Rooney Maras of the world edges out Nyong’o for competitive roles, like the Native American character Tiger Lily in Pan, Joe Wright’s retelling of the Peter Pan story. (Admittedly, neither actress would have been an ideal choice for that role. There is already a petition demanding that the role be recast.)
So it’s hard not to get excited about those Star Wars casting rumors that have Nyong’o joining the film industry’s top geek empire. Here’s five reasons why:
–Woman cannot live on arthouse alone. Is it weird and crass that I want Nyong’o swimming in gold doubloons inside a McScrooge-like vault? Maybe. But financial security might mean she’ll have the freedom to pick and choose her crucial next few roles carefully. Plus, no one is above a franchise these days: not Jennifer Lawrence, not Robert Downey Jr., not Joseph Gordon-Levitt. For an actor, it’s the closest thing to job security in Hollywood.
–More Nyong’o everywhere. 12 Years a Slave might have won the Best Picture Oscar, but let’s face it: there are large swaths of the American and international audience that just won’t see it and will never see it (its worldwide gross is under $200 million). A ginormous, world-encompassing behemoth like Star Wars will put Nyong’o in front of many more millions of eyeballs, not just through the movies, but also through marketing pushes like magazine covers, TV commercials, and merchandise.
—Star Wars needs more female characters. George Lucas’ original trilogy is infamous for having only six female characters — and only half of those have any dialogue. (Darth Vader wasn’t the one disturbing the force; it was the imminent Children of Men-esque apocalypse via infertility.) Though the newer prequel trilogy went a long way in rectifying that ridiculous male-female imbalance, there’s still a lot of progress to go.
–Ditto for nonwhite characters. Remember Jar Jar Binks? (And no, one token black character in each movie doesn’t count as “diversity.”)
–It’d mean a triumph of color-blind casting — kind of. Right now, it seems most likely that Nyong’o would play Obi-Wan Kenobi’s daughter or granddaughter — a role originally advertised for a “twentysomething female who is either of mixed race or black.” Kudos to J.J. Abrams for not going the most obvious direction with Ms. Kenobi’s race, but hopefully that isn’t the only reason why he chose to meet with Nyong’o.