History as Lupita Nyong’o named first black Berlinale jury chief

Kenyan-Mexican actor Lupita Nyong’o will in February head up the jury at Berlin’s international film festival, Europe’s first major cinema showcase of the year, organisers said Monday.

The Berlinale, as the event is known, told AFP that Nyong’o, 40, would be the first black person in its 74-year history to lead the panel selecting the winners of the Golden and Silver Bear top prizes.

Festival chiefs Mariette Rissenbeek and Carlo Chatrian said they were “happy and proud” that Nyong’o, who won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in “12 Years a Slave”, had accepted the post.

“Lupita Nyong’o embodies what we like in cinema: versatility in embracing different projects, addressing different audiences and consistency to one idea that is quite recognisable in her characters, as diverse as they may look,” they said in a statement.

Nyong’o was born to Kenyan parents in Mexico City and then grew up in Kenya before studying film and theatre in the United States, initially working on various film productions there.

In 2009 she wrote, produced and directed “In My Genes”, about Kenya’s albino population.

Her first major acting breakthrough came when she was cast as Patsey in the hard-hitting Steve McQueen biopic.

Her other screen successes include playing the warrior Nakia in the Marvel superhero film “Black Panther” and its sequel, Jordan Peele horror film “Us” and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”.

Nyong’o is also active on the Broadway stage and wrote the New York Times bestselling children’s book “Sulwe” in 2020.

The Berlinale, which will run February 15-25, ranks with Cannes and Venice among Europe’s top three film festivals and serves as an early annual launchpad for the industry.

French director Nicolas Philibert won the Golden Bear for best film this year for “On the Adamant”, a documentary about a floating day-care centre for people with psychiatric problems.

The festival is due on Tuesday to announce a new director to replace Rissenbeek and Chatrian after its 74th edition.

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