Lupita Nyong’o Shut Down Anyone Who Ever Questioned Her Decision To Be In A “Small Play”

Between the Tony nominations coming out today, and her head-turning look from the Met Gala last night, chances are the name Lupita Nyong’o has appeared in your feed several times today. The actress made history when she became the first Kenyan and the first Mexican to win an Academy Award for her performance in 12 Years A Slave. So yeah, she’s kind of a big deal. Nyong’o is currently starring in the Broadway play Eclipsed. And, in a piece for Lenny Letter, N’yongo addresses her decision to forgo the Hollywood for Broadway.

When you approach the TKTS ticket booth, you’ll notice there are separate lines for plays and musicals. (TKTS is a program that sells remaining tickets to Broadway shows at a discount on the day of the performance.) When in line for the plays, the staff constantly reminds you that you are currently in the line for plays ONLY. Upon hearing this, tourists often move to the end of the line for musicals. The truth of the matter is  that plays – even powerhouse plays – simply do not sell as well as big-budget musicals like The Lion King. 

Why? Maybe it’s because plays are seen as inaccessible to the general public. Or, maybe it’s because Broadway itself is somehow deemed “less” than a film. Here Nyong’o elaborates:

“During my last round of press for the play, a journalist asked me, “Why would such a big star choose to do such a small play?”Why would such a big star choose to do such a small play? This question felt quite silly. I mean, I’m an actress; why wouldn’t I want to be in an incredible, gorgeous, meaty piece about the complicated choices of women during wartime? But then it went deeper than that. To me it felt like a question about our value system in this culture, the ways we define success for ourselves as well as others.

Perhaps the reporter was placing a larger value on “Hollywood” roles? I turned down a few projects to pursue this one. I knew there was a sense of what was expected of me, but this play felt so important to me that I had to do it, expectations be damned.”

This is all very sad and true. Talentless “YouTube personalities” are given hundreds and thousands of dollars to perpetuate their mediocrity, while truly talented and professionally trained actors are out of a job often because of theatre’s overall unpopularity.

And no, money isn’t everything, but this culture has a hard time believing anybody would do something that wouldn’t pay as much as the alternative. They can’t wrap their heads around the concept that creating art is worth the pay-cut for true artists, like N’yongo.

“The chance to appear in Eclipsed after winning an Oscar was an opportunity to share in the incredible (and too rare) freedom of playing a fully rendered African woman. The playwright, Danai Gurira, has conceived a drama where the only people onstage are women. This allows the audience to be fully immersed in their lives, although the presence of the men around them is deeply felt. So often women of color are relegated to playing simple tropes: the sidekick, the best friend, the noble savage, or the clown. We are confined to being a simple and symbolic peripheral character — one who doesn’t have her own journey or emotional landscape.”

This seems like a much more fulfilling experience than Julia Roberts probably had on the set of the recently-released pile-of-shit film Mother’s Day.

Anyway, I highly recommend reading N’yongo’s full piece here. I also highly recommend that you see a play instead of a musical next time. You’ll thank me later.