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Lupita Nyong’o Is The Best Part Of ‘Wakanda Forever’

Lupita Nyong’o does not show up on screen in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever until halfway through the movie. Or maybe it’s less than halfway through, or maybe it’s more than halfway through. It’s hard to keep track when you’re watching a two-hour and forty-minute movie with multiple plotlines and a backdoor pilot for a Disney+ show starring Martin Freeman and Julia Louis-Dreyfus. The film is fine before Nyong’o is in it, but meandering. Boseman’s absence is felt, but so is Nyong’o. But once she arrives, the story comes alive. It’s still meandering, but it has an emotional focus. Nyong’o’s character, Nakia, a Wakandan spy with a very special set of skills and a love interest for T’Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), has not been in any Marvel films since 2018’s Black Panther (she must have gotten Marvel contract advice from Bradley Cooper). Before Nakia appears in Wakanda Forever, we learn that she left Wakanda and is so far removed from her life there that she doesn’t even attend T’Challa’s (Chadwich Boseman) funeral.

When Nyong’o finally shows up, she’s wearing a flowy, coral dress and is surrounded by a hall of plants. Nyong’o’s presence is an instant breath of fresh air. No matter how messy this thing gets (MCU films seem to only get messier and messier as they go on), everything will be okay, because Nyong’o is there to ground everything, effortlessly.

In less than a decade, Nyong’o has, through her performances and her striking personal style, established herself as an icon. Fresh out of the master’s program at the Yale School of Drama, Nyong’o rose to prominence for her supporting role as Pastey in Steven McQueen’s 2013 film 12 Years a Slave, which won her an Oscar. Nyong’o’s performance was committed, human, and graceful. It is without a doubt one of the best film debuts of any actor in history.

Years later, Nyong’o shows the same commitment in any role, big or small, and her emotional power remains the same, even behind motion capture as Maz Kanata, a space pirate in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. In 2019, Nyong’o brought her emotional intelligence to her chilling lead performance in Jordan Peele’s horror film Us, a performance that should have earned her an Oscar nomination (or, better, yet, the Oscar). Although terrifying and different from her prior roles, Nyong’o’s performance in Us still has her signature emotional pull. Nyong’o will return to horror with a leading role in A Quiet Place: Day One, a spin-off of John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place series.

In Wakanda Forever, Nyong’o grounds every scene she is in – even CGI-heavy underwater scenes or chaotic action sequences – and elevates every single performance around her. Letitia Wright’s performance as Shuri, a character who is processing grief, is more raw and refined when Nyong’o is in the scene with her, particularly in a post-credit scene in which Nakia introduces Shuri to her son, whom she secretly had with T’Challa. Nyong’o delivers dry but heavy exposition with sincerity and grace, in a way that makes the language seem riveting and active. Although the role of Nakia is just a supporting role in a MCU film,

Nyong’o is as committed as she is to everything she does, from her performances in Oscar shoe-ins, work with auteurs, and her meticulous, intentional fashion.