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Lupita Nyong’o Receives Montecito Award at Santa Barbara International Film Festival

Release Date: January 20,2020

Lupita Nyong’o receives the Montecito Award at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival on Monday night.
Lupita Nyong'o receives the Montecito Award at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival on Monday night. (Ryan Cullom / Noozhawk photo)

By Brooke Holland, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @NoozhawkNews | updated logo 10:30 a.m. | January 20, 2020 | 11:16 p.m.

Us" star Lupita Nyong'o received the prestigious Montecito Award during the 35th Santa Barbara International Film Festival tribute at the Arlington Theatre on Monday evening.

Accepting the award, the Oscar-winning Nyong'o reflected on her six-year film career, and how she feels particularly blessed and grateful to be able to choose her narrative.


“It still feels early for me to be reflecting on a body of work, but I feel blessed to have had the diversity of experience I have had so far,” the 36-year-old Mexico City-born, Kenyan-raised actress said. “It’s something I have always wanted.

“As an actor, real freedom is having that choice, and it’s hard to get there because acting is reliant on many other things,” she continued, later adding, “Acting is a privileged thing. It’s luxurious to play all day…and have people look up at you…It’s a luxurious thing, and also a thing that comes with a lot of responsibility."

The fans who packed the historic venue gave her a standing ovation.

A fan takes a selfie with Lupita Nyong’o at the Santa Barbara International Flm Festival.Click to view larger
A fan takes a selfie with Lupita Nyong’o at the Santa Barbara International Flm Festival. (Fritz Olenberger photo)

Jordan Peele's “Us” follows Adelaide Wilson (Nyong'o) and her family, who are attacked by a group of menacing doppelgängers terrorizing them. The family’s tranquil beachside vacation turns to chaos in the film.

Nyong’o's work in “Us” earned her a nomination at the 2020 Screen Actors Guild Awards, plus a nomination for best actress at the 25th Critics' Choice Awards and performance by a female actor in a leading role at the 26th annual Screen Actors Guild Awards, among other acting accolades.

“Lupita Nyong’o—by far one of the greatest actresses working in cinema today,” SBIFF Executive Director Roger Durling said at the event, later adding, “The most incredible performance in ‘Us,’ with which I’m obsessed. 

“I have seen that movie about seven times, and I do not get tired of watching,” he continued. “It’s truly two performances.”

SBIFF’s Montecito Awards were first presented in 2007, with the idea of honoring an individual in the entertainment industry who has made a great contribution to film.

Lupita Nyong'o on the red carpet from Noozhawk on Vimeo.

In years past, the award has acknowledged top-notch talent.

Past recipients include Melissa McCarthy, Saoirse Ronan, Isabelle Huppert, Sylvester Stallone, Jennifer Aniston, Oprah Winfrey, Daniel Day-Lewis and  Geoffrey Rush. Other recipients were Julianne Moore, Kate Winslet, Javier Bardem, Bill Condon and Naomi Watts.

As the sun went down, fans lined State Street to catch a glimpse of Nyong’o and others walk the red carpet for the ceremony. Among the red carpet arrivals were actor Jay Huguley and the “Dear Jane” cast.

The evening included an intimate conversation about Nyong’o’s film career, and film clips and montages from her work.

Guests were treated to an hour-long question-and-answer session moderated by SBIFF veteran Dave Karger.

“This woman can do it all,” Karger said of Nyong’o.

Nyong'o moved to Africa from Mexico with her family while she was young, and she was introduced to acting as a child.

Lupita Nyong’o arrives at the Santa Barbara International Flm Festival.Click to view larger
Lupita Nyong’o arrives at the Santa Barbara International Flm Festival. (Fritz Olenberger photo)

“I was performing since I was little,” Nyong’o said. “It was always make-believe, and I had an aunt who would organize little skits for us to present to my big extended family.

“It took some time for me to realize it was a career or a profession,” she continued. “I just love make-believe.”

By the age of 14, she had her first performance on stage as Juliet in the production of “Romeo and Juliet.”

“After that, it was a wrap,” Nyong’o said.

While studying at Hampshire College in Massachusetts, she worked as a production assistant on the thought-provoking “The Constant Gardener” in 2005, as a post-production intern on the heart-wrenching “The Namesake” in 2006, and an art intern on the compelling drama “Where God Left His Shoes” in 2007.

She received a bachelor's degree in film and theater studies from the private liberal arts college.

She made her acting debut in the short-film “East River” in 2008 and returned to Kenya to star in the television drama series "Shuga" from 2009 to 2012. 

Nyong’o also wrote, produced, directed, and edited her first major film, "In My Genes," an award-winning documentary.

Lupita Nyong’o is interviewed on stage at the Santa Barbara International Flm Festival.Click to view larger
Lupita Nyong’o is interviewed on stage at the Santa Barbara International Flm Festival. (Fritz Olenberger photo)

Nyong’o holds a graduate degree from Yale School of Drama, and immediately after graduating, she landed her first breakthrough role in a feature film.

She attended drama school to “figure out the craft of acting” and she experienced circumstances that were out of her element, such as playing Henry VI in school.

“I had to face myself all of the time,” Nyong’o said. “I had to fail, and fail extravagantly.”

Nyong’o added, “The thing about drama school is it’s not about the pat on your back. It’s about every take being a chance to go deeper and deeper. It’s not about the praise and the worship. It’s just about truth.”

The actress opened up about performing on Broadway and starring in several movies.

“It feels great to be a woman at work,” Nyong’o said.

In 2014, Nyong’o won an Oscar for supporting actress in her role as Patsey in the historical drama “12 Years a Slave.” Her acclaimed cinema debut impressed audiences.

“I knew it was special from reading the script,” she said. “I knew the movie was special.”

Nyong’o showed her talent in Disney’s "Queen of Katwe.” 

She also appeared in hit movies like Disney's “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” and 2018’s “Black Panther," which earned her several award nominations, including BET Awards’ best actress, NAACP Image Awards for best supporting actress and a Saturn Award for best actress. 

In addition, she joined the cast of 2017’s “Star Wars: Episode VII,” as well as 2016’s “The Jungle Book” and “Non-Stop” in 2014.

She starred in 2019’s “Little Monsters,” a comedy-horror zombie film.

“It was wild,” Nyong’o said of the script. “But it had heart as well.”

The gathering finished with an award presentation by “Us” writer-director Peele, who applauded Nyong'o's career and film achievements.

“She’s an actor that after working with, reminded me why I stopped acting,” Peele told the crowd. “Both because she showed me I had no idea what I was doing with that art form, but also because she gave me the dream role of my life as director of her, and her genius.” 

Peele called Nyong’o the “truest professional I have ever met” and “she pushed me to this incredible different level.”

The Montecito Award event was presented by the Manitou Fund.

Click here for more information about SBIFF, including this year’s events schedule through Jan. 25. UGG is a presenting sponsor of the 35th annual film festival.

— Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk@NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.