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What’s Next for Lupita Nyong’o? ‘Star Wars’!

What's Next for Lupita Nyong'o? 'Star Wars'!

With the Academy Awards in the cultural rearview mirror, many of us wondered when and how we’d see a preternatural talent, and first-time Oscar winner, like Lupita Nyong’o on the big screen again. On Oscar night, the Mexican-born, Kenyan-raised Yale graduate who swept awards season with her sublime performance in “12 Years a Slave” basked in the limelight in her stunning blue gown. What would her follow-up be? Well, it turns out those casting rumors that JJ Abrams was circling Nyong’o for a role in his upcoming “Star Wars” reboot are true. But we still don;t know what character she is playing. 

She joins Gwendoline Christie, John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson and Max von Sydow as well as original stars Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, and Kenny Baker in “Star Wars: Episode VII.” Lucasfilm plans to release the film on December 18, 2015. As ever, the “Star Wars” timeline is complex, so the team needed to map their schedule far in advance. Iger recently revealed that the new “Star Wars” iteration would be set 30 years after 1983′s “Return of the Jedi.” 

EARLIER: Recently, Nyong’o, 31, had a small part in the Liam Neeson thriller “Non-Stop.” Next up, she’s working as Swahili consultant and translator for the upcoming environmental doc “The Hadza: Last Of The First.” The film takes a look at human origins in Africa’s Rift Valley, where the Hadza, one of the last remaining hunter/gatherer groups in Africa, have lived sustainably on their land for at least 50,000 years — and possibly much longer.

Directed by Bill Benenson (“Dirt! The Movie”) in support of The Nature Conservancy, “Hadza” will be narrated by Emmy-winner Alfre Woodard, who’s due for a more robust opportunity. She steals the few scenes she has as free black woman Mistress Shaw in “12 Years a Slave,” a role fleshed out specifically for her by director Steve McQueen and scribe John Ridley. (Shadow & Act talked with Woodard about the performance here.)

It’s tough for black actresses, as it is for women in general, who struggle to land decent roles. Viola Davis, for one, is able to display more of her prowess in theater, such as Broadway’s “Fences” opposite Denzel Washington. She has excelled in supporting roles, and knows how to turn on a good cry, from last year’s “Prisoners” to her Oscar-nominated performances in 2011’s “The Help” and 2008’s “Doubt.” Fashion-savvy Nyong’o may find it hard to find another film role as rich as “12 Years a Slave”–but she is young, gifted and red hot.

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We all wish the best for Lupita. Except no one in her camp seems to realize one cold fact–Hollywood doesn't commission racially neutral scripts for actresses. The parts that are generally racially flexible are roles like the best friend, the exotic but silent girlfriend, the victim of physical or sexual violence, or some figure of authority. The authority parts generally go to older actresses of color so she has time. But the independent and international film world is where the meaty dramatic material is available. She must also utilize her linguistic skills for Spanish speaking auteurs since Nyong'o is fluent in the language. There are ways to leverage a long and productive career for Nyong'o in film if she and her camp are smart about her options.

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