Lupita Nyong’o Was So Good In Us That I Had To Unstan

Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images.
The nominations for the upcoming 2020 Academy Awards proved to be very disappointing — as expected. Despite the fact that 2019 was one of the best years ever for women directors, the pool of nominees in the Best Director category didn’t include a single woman. Many of the awards across categories were also pointedly white, with some of the year’s most stunning performances by actors of colour somehow not making the cut.
Enter Jordan Peele and his critically-acclaimed horror film, Us.
In March of 2019, fans filed into theaters across the country to watch Peele’s second horror project. Though we didn't know what to expect, having seen and been scarred by Peele's debut film Get Out (am I the only one who doesn't drink tea like that anymore?), we already knew that the movie was going to be a true nightmare. That cursed remix of hip hop duo Luniz's "I Got 5 On It" didn't do anything to assuage our fears, but nevertheless, I entered the theater with high hopes.
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For context, I am the last person to watch any horror film voluntarily. I am the most sensitive and easily scared person alive — literally everything gives me the creeps. But even my fears couldn't keep me from supporting my two favourite people in Hollywood, Lupita Nyong'o and Winston Duke.
I was thrilled to learn that the actors, who I lovingly refer to as WinPita or LupSton, would appear in a film together as a married couple. Looking back, it was foolish of me to expect the duo, who are real-life friends, to be cutesy and couple-y in a horror film, but I was excited by the prospect. Nyong'o has always been my cousin in my head, and Duke...well, that's my actual boyfriend and one true love. What could go wrong?
As it turned out, everything. In the two hours that I spent watching the film in the iconic Magic Johnson Theater in Harlem, I felt like I was too on edge to take a breath. I was filled with abject fear as I watched the story play out, each act more terrifying than the last.
In Us, Nyong'o takes on the role of Adelaide, a wife and mother whose childhood haunts her. She simultaneously plays the film's antagonist Red, Adelaide's bloodthirsty doppelgänger who is leading an underground revolution of Tethereds. She switches between characters with ease, playing Adelaide with anxiety that builds and spills out in a nearly barbaric survival instinct, while Red is played with an eerie and calculated calm. Talk less of Red's throaty voice ( an artistic choice inspired by Nyong'o's study of vocal disorders) or that plot twist at the end of the film.
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Us gifted audiences with one of the most textured, multi-dimensional, and convincing performances out of Hollywood thus far. I, as a former dues-paying member of Lupita Hive, even had to unfollow the Black Panther starlet on Instagram because I couldn't look at her without seeing her Tethered and hearing her growl. After a performance that powerful, why didn't the Academy honour her work with a nomination?
Nyong'o has won an Oscar before; in 2013, she took home the win for her role in 12 Years a Slave, based on the incredible story of Solomon Northup. But, as one Twitter user pointed out, she and the 34 other Black women in Oscar history that were nominated across the Lead/Supporting Actress categories only earned the recognition for roles in which they were either slaves, maids, or burdened by the weight of poverty.
Does the refusal to acknowledge the varied narratives of Black women during awards season reflect a general disinterest in our stories? Queen & Slim director Melina Matsoukas says yes. After her film was also snubbed for a Golden Globe, Matsoukas revealed that there were only a few members of the Hollywood Foreign Press who even bothered to take the time to watch it in full.
"It just represents an archaic system that is full of people who don’t value us," the director said. "They don’t value the stories that represent all of us, and those stories are so often disregarded and discredited, as are their filmmakers.”
While Nyong'o wasn't totally ignored this award season — the African American Film Critics Association gave her top honours for her dual role of Adelaide and Red — the Academy's choice to overlook her performance in Us definitely hurts. If they could pay this role dust, we're worried about what they'll say about the amazing projects she's got in the pipeline. Nyong'o is working on a television adaptation of the critically acclaimed novel Americanah as well as a warrior movie with the actor of actors herself Viola Davis.
Even if Hollywood doesn't give Nyong'o the flowers that she deserves, I will — but from a distance. I'm still absolutely terrified of her.
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