Friday, May 8, 2015


The numbers tell their own story: she’s the first black African actress to win an Oscar, the first black Lancôme ambassador. During the shoot, a Lancôme rep admires the particular shade of red nail varnish that has been chosen for Nyong’o to wear – a colour that doesn’t work as well next to white skin. She is transforming the picture of beauty. As Nyong’o says, it’s about time. ‘It’s 2015, man. We could all use some diversity.’ That’s why she wants to do Americanah – not just because the story is about the under-explored experience of Africans in America (as opposed to African-Americans), but also in order to show a Western audience that Africa is a continent, not a concept, containing a limitless mix of peoples and languages. Is it frustrating, how people over-simplify? ‘Yes,’ she says, typically direct. ‘It can get tedious to have to explain that I speak English because Kenyans speak English.’ Her family are all in Kenya, it’s still home, even though she hasn’t been back since 2013, before the madness set in. She misses it, and them, keenly, but they keep relentlessly in touch through instant messaging. At any moment she’ll know that her mother is stuck in traffic or which skirt her sister is thinking of buying. It’s not perfect, but it’s all part of the adjustment. Her life is now an itinerant one, continent-straddling, managed. She sees her old friends – from Hampshire College and Yale – on the rare occasions she makes it back to New York and to her apartment in Brooklyn. To get time to herself, she recently had to go away – she won’t tell me where – to a place where no one knew her and she could be 'one of the number', entirely anonymous. Amid all of this, does she have time for romance? She smiles, and says simply: ‘I plead the fifth.’ Nyong’o speaks more candidly than any actress I’ve met, but there are limits. CHECK OUT THE FULL INTERVIEW IN THE MAY ISSUE OF HARPER'S BAZAAR.

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