It’s been nearly three weeks since Lupita Nyong’o won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance in 12 Years a Slave. It wasn’t just her acting chops that seized everyone’s attention: The 31-year-old dazzled throughout awards season with her graceful presence, thoughtful interviews, and stunning fashion sense. Now everyone wants to see that promise pay off. “Obviously she is a remarkable actress,” says one Oscar-nominated director. “I think it’s more a question of how open we are as a society to a [black] leading lady. You would hope she’d be offered the same parts as Jennifer Lawrence.”
Those rooting for Nyong’o are waiting for a J. Law-size career bump. She recently lost out on the part of Tiger Lily to Rooney Mara in Warner Bros.’ adaptation of Peter Pan. And while she has reportedly met with Star Wars director J.J. Abrams, there’s no word on any definite role. Audiences undoubtedly want to see Nyong’o succeed in as big a way as possible: An online petition began circulating last week demanding that Marvel cast Nyong’o as a young Storm in a future X-Men origin movie. For most actors — think Lawrence, Natalie Portman, or Christian Bale — an Oscar win propels them to the top of any casting list. But for others, whose race, age, or body type doesn’t fit neatly into Hollywood’s very narrow boxes, that statuette doesn’t carry as much force. The question remains for many: Can this beautiful, young, talented actress become an A-list movie star?
One talent agent we spoke to thought Nyong’o would ultimately find a creative home on television, similar to fellow Oscar winners and nominees Octavia Spencer, Melissa Leo, Jacki Weaver, and Vera Farmiga. “In a couple years, Lupita will be number one on a call sheet on a television show,” says the agent. “Ten years ago she wouldn’t have been there, so that has improved.” Yet 12 Years producer Dede Gardner, for one, is confident that Lupita’s film career will be as captivating as her red-carpet looks. Crucially, she says, the results could depend more on Hollywood’s decisions than Nyong’o’s. “Do I think there will be as many choices for her under the current metric system? No,” says Gardner. “But that’s on us. If we can’t figure out our way around creating and supporting narrative that accommodates all this talent that is oozing out of every corner, then we, frankly, have failed at our jobs.”