By Jason Straziuso
NAIROBI, Kenya — “You are the pride of Africa,” Kenya’s president exclaimed on Twitter as he celebrated Kenya’s first major Oscar win by actress Lupita Nyong’o.
Nyong’o was the topic of the day on Kenya’s radio and TV stations Monday, the day after her Oscar win for Best Supporting Actress in the movie “12 Years A Slave.”
At a conference at the United Nations headquarters in Nairobi, more than 300 people broke out into applause after Wanjira Maathai — the daughter of the late Kenyan Nobel Prize winner Wangari Maathai — mentioned her mother and Nyong’o in the same sentence.
“We all had hoped of course that she would win. Everybody feels a sudden attachment to her, she’s a Kenyan woman,” Maathai said in an interview later. “A lot of her work, a lot of her experience in film started in Kenya.”
Nyong’o, 31, was born in Mexico to Kenyan parents but was mostly raised in Kenya. A graduate of the Yale School of Drama, Nyong’o had starred in several productions in Kenya before landing her breakout role alongside Brad Pitt.
Nyong’o had been considered a front-runner in a category that included Jennifer Lawrence and Julia Roberts. When her name was called Sunday, she bent over in her seat as the audience erupted. Just before her win, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta issued a statement saying Nyong’o’s accomplishments testify to her talent and the determination to go the extra mile that success demands.
At the end of her Oscar speech, Nyong’o asked that her win remind “every little child that no matter where you’re from your dreams are valid.”
Maathai spoke Monday, which is Wangari Maathai Day in Africa, to honor the Nobel prize winner’s dedication to the environment. She said that like her mother, Nyong’o is another Kenyan who has reached great heights.
“She (Nyong’o) attributes to her success to a lot of other black actresses who made her believe she could be something and that she could make it in film,” Maathai said. “And I think it’s so important to have role models, so important to have people who you can say, ‘Ah, if she made it, maybe I can too.’”