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Kenya Celebrates Nyong’o's Oscar, The Arts

Lupita Nyong’o was the topic of the day on Kenyan TV and radio stations Monday for her Oscar win as Best Supporting Actress in the movie “12 Years A Slave,” Bloomberg reports.

“You are the pride of Africa,” Kenya’s president said on Twitter.

More than 300 people applauded at a conference at the U.N. headquarters in Nairobi, after Wanjira Maathai — daughter of the late Kenyan Nobel Prize winner Wangari Maathai — mentioned her mother and Nyong’o in the same sentence, according to Bloomberg.

“We all had hoped of course that she would win,” Maathai said in an interview later. “Everybody feels a sudden attachment to her, she’s a Kenyan woman. 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 raised mostly in Kenya. A graduate of the Yale School of Drama, Nyong’o starred in several productions in Kenya before landing her breakout role alongside Brad Pitt.

Nyong’o was a front-runner for Best Supporting Actress, in company with Jennifer Lawrence and Julia Roberts. When her name was called Sunday, she bent over in her seat as the audience erupted, Bloomberg reports.

Before Nyong’o's win was announced, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said in a statement Nyong’o's accomplishments testify to her talent and determination to go the extra mile that success demands.

Nyong’o used her Oscar speech to send a message to “every little child that no
matter where you’re from your dreams are valid.”

Today is Wangari Maathai Day in Africa, honoring the Nobel prize winner’s dedication to the environment. Maathai said that like her mother, Nyong’o 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.’”

Kenyan film critic Ogova Ondego criticized Kenya for not supporting the arts, Bloomberg reports. Nyong’o, whose father is a Kenyan senator, did not get any support from the Kenyan government while developing her talent, Ondego said.

The Kenyan government needs to deliver on the promise of promoting the arts, Kenyatta said in Sunday’s statement. Many young Kenyans will have access to funding for artistic projects, he said.

“It is our intention that Lupita becomes the first of an endless line of Oscar nominees and
winners from Africa and Kenya,” he said.

Nyongo’s success will encourage many in in Kenya to embrace the arts, said David Opondoe, managing director of Kenya-based theater company Phoenix Players, where
Nyong’o performed earlier in her career.

“It shows that there is so much talent, only that the opportunities are not there,” he said.
“It’s time for parents and government to see that this is not a pastime. It’s something you
can do professionally and bring glory.”

In the past, Phoenix Players had to actively hunt for actors for parts, Opondoe said. This year, more than 1,000 people have auditioned at the theater.

Opondoe said he first saw Nyongo perform in 2002 when they both starred in the play “There Goes The Bride” in 2002.

“At that time she was viewed as an amateur and she gave us, some of the professionals, a run for our money,” he said. “She had her lines and was on point and I knew this person is passionate about acting. We are going to celebrate this for a very long time.”

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