Will 'Us' Land Lupita Nyong'o an Oscar Nomination? It Should.
By Stacy Lambe
JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images
When Lupita Nyong’o won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 2014 for 12 Years a Slave, it was clear a new talent had emerged in Hollywood.
Seemingly coming out of nowhere, the actress landed her first feature film role in director Steve McQueen’s unflinching historical drama shortly after graduating with an MFA degree from the Yale School of Drama. In the film, she played Patsey, a horribly abused enslaved African American woman in the mid-1800s. Earning immediate praise, the role won Nyong’o several accolades, including a Critics’ Choice Award, an Independent Spirit Award and a SAG Award.
But following her Oscar win, Nyong’o has remained relatively hidden from view despite landing follow-up roles in big-budget projects like the first installment of the new Star Wars trilogy and the live-action remake of The Jungle Book. In both, she voiced CGI characters. She was also relegated to supporting roles in Non-Stop, Queen of Katwe and Black Panther, the latter of which was her most high-profile project until now.
With Us, Jordan Peele’s anticipated follow-up to the award-winning Get Out, Nyong’o not only lands her first leading role, she delivers an Oscar-worthy performance that should put in her the awards season mix this year.
In the film, she plays the dual roles of Adelaide and her evil doppelganger Red as the two battle it out. As Adelaide, Nyong’o plays a matriarch struggling to contain her fears of a childhood trauma as her family spends summer vacation at the beach. Their trip soon turns into a nightmare when deranged lookalike strangers invade their home and begin to terrorize them. Both parts are wildly different and, incredibly enough, fully realized in Nyong’o’s performances.
Lupita Nyong'o Explains Why She Felt 'Panicked' While Making 'Us' (Exclusive)
When she first landed the movie, Nyong’o initially panicked about taking on so much “because I was playing not one, but two characters in the same movie,” she recalled to ET. Yet, the actress took full advantage of the meaty opportunity, stretching onscreen in ways audiences have yet to see from her. “The thing about acting in this movie -- I’ve never done this before,” she said.
It’s also earning her plenty of praise. In ET film writer John Boone’s review of Us, he proclaims that “this is Nyong’o’s movie.” He goes on to write, “Her performance here is masterful -- not to say the least of her flawless accent work -- and that's before her Tethered persona shows up and she goes for broke, a lurid, animalistic turn that you can't believe you are seeing, even as you're watching it.”
He’s not alone in his praise. Variety writes: “Nyong’o’s performance not only holds the family together, but also propels the storyline as Peele -- who wrote the screenplay -- keeps audiences struggling to figure out who or what these doppelgangers are.” Meanwhile the New York Times’ Manohla Dargis writes that “Nyong’o brings a tremendous range and depth of feeling to both characters, who she individualizes with such clarity and lapidary detail that they aren’t just distinct beings; they feel as if they were being inhabited by different actors.”
With the film currently holding a 95 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, marking Peele as the new master of suspense, Us will surely have momentum going into awards season. But will it be enough to earn Nyong’o a nomination? Potentially yes, since films like The Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby and other universally acclaimed horror films have garnered nominations for its actors in the past. One limiting factor is that only one black performer -- Get Out’s Daniel Kaluuya -- has earned an acting nomination for the genre.
Should Nyong’o’s performance rightfully earn her a nomination, a win may be tougher to come by. Only a handful of performers -- Frederic March (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde), Jodie Foster (Silence of the Lambs), Kathy Bates (Misery) -- have won Oscars for roles in horror films, while Emily Blunt most recently won a surprise SAG Award for 2018’s A Quiet Place.
Overall, actors in the genre have an uphill climb when it comes to recognition. Many gathered behind noted scream queen Toni Collette’s performance in Hereditary last year, but it failed to earn the actress more than a Gotham Award. And 2018's Suspiria didn’t earn Tilda Swinton any major award nominations, despite the fact she played three roles in Luca Guadagnino’s remake.
This year could change the game, however, with Nyong’o and Octavia Spencer, both past Oscar winners for Best Supporting Actress, in their first leading roles in horror films -- Us and Ma, respectively -- coming out this year. On top of that, Nyong’o should finally earn the acclaim and recognition that will not only make good on her 2014 breakthrough, but firmly make her one of the top actresses in Hollywood.