Update: Since this post was published, Lupita Nyong’o was (finally) cast in the next Star Wars movie and Brad Pitt’s production company, Plan B, joined D2 Productions. and Potboiler Productions in committing to the big-screen adaptation of Americanah. Nyong’o and Pitt co-starred in 12 Years a Slave.
Let’s start with the good news: Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o has optioned Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah, an exquisitely intelligent, wry, and heartwrenching trans-Atlantic love story that was named one of the 10 Best Books of 2013 by The New York Times Book Review. If Nyong’o chooses to star in the film adaptation — and I can’t imagine she wouldn’t — she’d get to play one helluva complicated woman in Ifemelu, a foreign student-turned-race blogger from Nigeria who has trouble figuring out her place in American society and desperately misses her first love, Obinze, who is equally unhappy back in their native country. I’d love to see Nyong’o in an everywoman role where her racial identity is an integral part of who she is, but not all of who she is.
Which brings us to the bad news: This is the only project Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o — a gorgeous, talented, graceful, and charming actress with an ocean’s worth of promise — has been attached to, other than a voiceover gig in The Jungle Book in which we won’t be able to see her face. We all know why she hasn’t booked a significant role since she became a breakout ingenue months ago: Hollywood has few significant roles for women, and even less for women of color. It’s great that she’s become a spokeswoman for black beauty through her endorsement deal with Lancome and that People Magazine “Most Beautiful Woman” cover; but remember, Nyong’o has an acting degree from Yale. I bet she’s dying to show us what she’s capable of.
The cosmetics and publishing industries sure are clued into the fact that Nyong’o is luminous and people want to see her. I just wish Hollywood understood this better — and wasn’t so predictably, deplorably unimaginative in its ideas of what audiences want.