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Lupita N’Yongo’s Oscar Snub Alternative: Lead Actress Nomination for Us

Written by: Jason M. Lucia – February 4th, 2020 3:30pm pst

This year, as always, the Academy has nominated some exquisite performances in the Best Actress in a Leading Role category. Cynthia Erivo, Scarlett Johansson, Saoirse Ronan, Charlize Theron and Renée Zellweger all acquitted themselves admirably in fine films. But Lupita Nyong’o’s dual performance as Red and Adelaide in Jordan Peele’s Us has been strangely neglected.

Any performance that Lupita gave this year would no doubt have been worthy of consideration, but the conviction and complexity of what she did in this film needs to be recognized. Popcorn Talk Network’s Alternative Oscars are here to do just that.

credit: BellaNaija

Jordan Peele, known up until fairly recently as a comedian, broke into the cinematic mainstream with a vengeance as the writer and director of Get Out, and his follow-up to such a confident, audacious debut naturally attracted scrutiny from the get-go. Red and Adelaide were written with Lupita in mind. Her Oscar-winning performance in 12 Years a Slave proved that she could go deep into a headspace that is steeped in trauma. The unique challenges of the role Peele invited her to inhabit require spoilers to explain, so if you have not yet seen Us, get thee hence to the media streams of HBO or to any local theater that’s running it. Then come back to this page with an educated admiration for what Lupita does here.

credit: Universal Pictures

Adelaide is a happily married mother of two great kids, vacationing with her family in Santa Cruz and troubled by flashbacks to a trip she took there in childhood, the night she went missing and found herself in the funhouse. We watch the mania building in her in response to subtle synchronicities, sensing that there must be more to all this than childhood hauntings. Then Red and her family of twisted doppelgängers emerge from the underworld to spoil everyone’s holiday in the sun, and Lupita gives us a stunning portrait of the derangement, rage, and alienation that shrieks between the haves and the have nothings.

Credit: Universal Pictures

She took her immersion in Peele’s allegorical nightmare world very seriously. She developed distinct psychologies, body languages and speech patterns for both characters, extensively researching a disorder of the larynx called spasmodic dysphonia that gives Red yet another layer of otherness, poignance, and pain. Adelaide (and Red, by proxy) were child ballerinas, so Lupita took ballet classes to understand how they would move in the world. She was required to switch back and forth between these antithetical self-images several times a day while shooting. All part of the job, you might say, but it took its toll, and the true complexity of her puzzle box performance isn’t fully evident until an emotionally coherent final twist that rewrites everything we’ve seen, like the best plot twists do, and when we return to Us, it’s a different film. And even more powerful.

credit: Universal Pictures

And here’s that spoiler. When Red and Adelaide met as children, they switched places. Alt Oscars Lead Actress nominee Lupita Nyong’o is playing an Adelaide that knows she’s really Red. She’s spent her whole life running from that fact and the broken mirror world she fled. And she therefore plays a Red who started life as Adelaide and was cheated of that life, reflecting it underground through a glitchy clone telepathy, tormented for decades by bizarro approximations of the happy bright world that was stolen from her. It’s a bit like Face Off if Nicolas Cage had played both roles, playing Nicolas Cage playing John Travolta as Nicolas Cage and Nicolas Cage playing Nicolas Cage as John Travolta. Did that make you dizzy? Imagine how Lupita felt.

credit: Universal Pictures

Different films affect us in different ways. It’s difficult to critically assess something as subtle as the actor’s art. But what Lupita Nyong’o did in this film is so multidimensional that it’s a work of art unto itself, and yet its energies utterly serve Peele’s vision and the world of Us, leaving us haunted forever by the film’s ambiguous but chilling implications.

About The Author:

Jason M. Lucia is a media critic, columnist, and professional ghostwriter whose work has been published under several pseudonyms.  He was raised in Medford, MA.  He went to school in NY.  He lives to rhapsodize the stories he loves on the page and in the flesh.

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