Kenyan Actress Lupita Nyong'o Sparks Oscar Buzz

Her American film debut in the highly acclaimed 12 Years a Slave has likely set Nyong'o on a fast-track to the Academy Awards.

Posted: 09/10/2013 11:45 AM EDT

Director Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave set this year's Toronto Interational Film Festival (TIFF) ablaze, generating immediate Oscar buzz for the film and its A-list cast. 

Chiwetel Ejiofor leads the film, which is based on the true story of Solomon Northup, an educated and well-to-do free Northern Black man who is kidnapped on a trip to Washington, D.C., taken to the deep South and sold into slavery without any means of contacting his family or reestablishing his legal freedom.

Ejiofor and McQueen, a Black Brit, have been celebrated for their acting and directing, respectively. But it is Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong'o who stirred up the most critical acclaim at the recent screening at TIFF.

Her emotionally charged debut performance as Patsey, a plantation slave who caters to the predilections and peculiarities of a brutal estate owner, has likely placed Nyong’o as a frontrunner for supporting actress at this year's Academy Awards nearly six months before the ceremony. 

“It was hard to go there, but it was necessary,” she told Entertainment Weekly about the demanding role.

The Mexico-born, and Kenya- and America-raised performer attended Hampshire College and the Yale School of Drama, where she appeared in a number of stage productions, prior to working on the production of films like The Constant Gardener and The Namesake.

Before she catapulted to celebrity in McQueen's film, Nyong’o starred in the Kenyan MTV 2008 television series Shuga and wrote, directed and produced In My Genes, a 2009 documentary on the treatment of Kenya's albinoism community.

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(Photo: Jag Gundu/Getty Images)

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