Montecito Award Honoring Lupita Nyong’o

Reviewed by Cate Herrell. Viewed at the SBIFF 2020.

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Lupita Nyong’o? At the Santa Barbara International Film Festival? You can count me in. 

I have looked up to Lupita since watching her for the first time in 12 Years a Slave (for which she earned an Oscar). I was ecstatic to attend her night at the festival receiving the Montecito Award which is “given to a person in the entertainment industry who has made a great contribution to film” as stated on the festival’s official website. Walking past her as she met with press on the red carpet outside the Arlington Theatre, I was stunned by how beautiful and radiant she is off the camera. As I sat down, there was a slideshow showcasing the titles of the films that she has been in so far. 

Some of the titles included were 12 Years A Slave (2013), Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015), Queen of Katwe (2016), Black Panther (2018), Little Monsters (2019), and finally the reason she was receiving the award that night, Us (2019). 

Lupita Nyong’o has a captivating energy which translates well in movies, but also made listening to her speak a lot of fun. I already had a lot of respect for her, but after listening to her well-spoken, thoughtful responses to the interview questions I gained a whole lot more. She spoke about how growing up she was already in love with the idea of acting, and how she could not envision herself living a life where she did not pursue these dreams. I admire her drive to learn all she could about her “craft”, and the tenacity to go after challenging roles such as Red/Adelaide in Us

After sifting through all of the steps she took throughout her career, we got to hear about her experience regarding her incredible, terrifying performance in Jordan Peele’s movie Us. When I saw Us for the first time in the theatre, I was blown away not only by the story, but by Lupita’s chilling execution of the complex and riveting main character. Her collaboration with Peele brought the film to life in an eerie turn of events. When Peele came out to present her with the award, we got to hear his side of things. He, much like the entire audience, was taken by Lupita and her ability to become the character she was cast to play. 

If I knew nothing about Lupita, you could convince me that she is royalty. She has a regalness about her, and I could have listened to her talk for hours more. She accepted her award, and genuinely seemed thrilled to have spent the night sharing her stories with us. I had a really fun time listening to her speak, watching clips from films that she has been in, and learning about all the hard work she put in behind the scenes to accomplish her goals. If I learned anything about her, it is that she is deserving of her fame, and that passion can carry you as far as you want to go.

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