Hat’s off to Nate Jacobs, Founding Artistic Director who wrote and directed this original musical “Harry and Lena.” Every time that I’ve written a review of a Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe (WBTT) show, I’ve said to readers, try to see the show because it’s outstanding. Well, I’m happy to say, I’m repeating myself by saying it again…try to see the show “Harry and Lena.”
“Harry and Lena” is WBTT’s third show of the season, experiencing sold-out ticket sales even before the opening. In an effort to meet anticipated demands, two additional performances were added…and they also quickly sold out. The fact that the show was sold out before it opened with its’ first showing is proof enough that WBTT produces quality entertainment. “Harry and Lena” is scheduled to run until March 23.
The actors portraying entertainment icons Harry Belafonte and Lena Horne are well-known WBTT member Michael Mendez and Lexie DeAnda who came from Texas to play the role of Ms. Horne. DeAnda teaches music in Laredo while continuing her pursuit of a professional performance career. Without a doubt, there definitely was a connection between Mendez and DeAnda which was perfect, since Belafonte and Horne shared the same type of connection in real life.
Although, this was the very first time seeing DeAnda perform, I have seen Mendez in several different roles in previous presentations. I can honestly say (and have personally said this to Mendez at the end of each show) that he improves with every performance. He is truly a joy to watch both physically and musically. He dances and sings with soulful intensity, and one can see by the expressions on his face that he enjoys every moment on stage. Ms. DeAnda was just what the doctor ordered for the role of Lena Horne. She came on as being as “sassy” as I remember Ms. Horne to be, and her voice was delightful, plus she is just as pretty. I’m certain we’ll be hearing a lot about DeAnda in the very near future.
Other members of the cast included Victoria Byrd, Candace C. Culcleasure, Sheldon Roden and Joshua Thompson. They performed as an ensemble in many of the musical pieces. Each one did an excellent job together as a song and dance ensemble. Producing the fine music for the show was Production Manager & Musical Director James Dodge, II who also performed on bass guitar and did a splendid job working with Jamar D. Camp, Auxiliary Keyboard, Keith Phelps, Jr. piano, Tony Milton, drums and Todd Bellamy, percussion. They were “tight” and created a great sound that mimicked a Broadway pit orchestra.
The production was a two act musical with a setting taking place somewhere in Florida during the late 1950s. The entire thirty-six tunes sung during Act One and Act Two were familiar; some more than others, but all sung with enthusiasm and passion. Some of the musical numbers included Coconut Woman, I’ve Got Rhythm, The Lady Is A Tramp, People Will Say We’re In Love, Island In The Sun, Summertime, Love Me Or Leave Me, The Man I Love, Mama Look A-Boo Boo, Jump In The Line, Man Smart Woman Smarter, Amazing Grace, Swing Low Sweet Chariot, Stormy Weather, Matilda, and more. I’m sure you recognize many of the listed tunes that were big hits back in the day.
Last but by far not least, mention should be given to the Creative Team who put this fantastic show together. Nate Jacobs, Creator, Director and Artistic Director, a driving force in Sarasota’s theater scene; Timothy Beltley, Costume Designer, a designer of more than sixty productions at the Dorset Theatre Festival, Surflight Theatre, Golden Apple, The Players Theatre, Manatee Performing Arts, and the Banyan Theater Company; James (Jay) Dodge, II Production Manager and Musical Director who has travelled with the renowned Westcoast Gospel Chorus of Florida and has played for many great artists while touring the United States, Europe, Africa and the Caribbean…including a holiday performance at the White House; Nick Jones, Lighting Designer and an adjunct teacher at the Booker High Schools Visual & Performing Arts program; and John C. Reynolds, Scenic Designer and freelance artist, musician and activity director.
WBTT’s next musical production will be “Bubbling Brown Sugar” running from April 9 until May 11, 2014. This show will take you back to the Harlem Renaissance (1920-1940) when audiences flocked to the area’s popular nightclubs to see the greatest talents entertain. Artist like Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, and Billie Holiday created this golden age of music. Get your tickets early before they sell out. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit the WBTT website at www.wbttsrq.org or call the box office at (941) 366-1505.
46 Years of Service to the Tampa Bay Area
This site was created by Elisa L. Sanders.
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On this particular Friday evening two weeks ago, the jazz group that was performing received multiple standing ovations at the Firehouse Cultural Center, a new jazz venue in Ruskin, FL. Why? Because this basic but unique jazz ensemble are not only musicians, but mind readers; they have the ability to read each other’s minds musically; comping and supporting one another with riffs that blow your mind.
However, the feature that captures audience interest is the band “swings!”The quiet, well-mannered musician who hails from Hartford, Conn., and is now a resident of Bradenton, Ken Loomer is the leader and drummer of this exceptional jazz quartet simply named The Ken Loomer Jazz Quartet. I compare the overall character of the band to U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt’s foreign policy: “Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far!”
Each member of the band is rather unpretentious…until they begin to perform. Tony Castellano is the vocalist and keyboard player. He is also quite a jokester keeping the audience laughing at his comments, while at the same time mesmerizing them with his dazzling playing. Bruce Wallace with his upright bass keeps the band moving and within the multitude of chord changes accompanying each tune. Tenor saxophonist Franco Marino reminds one of the Godfather movies with perfectly coiffed hairstyle, tailored sport jacket and tie, playing his horn so “hot” it’s as if he had dealt with Lucifer at the “Crossroads.” And then there’s drummer and leader Ken Loomer who is a “drummer’s drummer.” His solos are reminiscent of drum legends Gene Krupa, Art Blakey, Chico Hamilton, and Louie Bellsom. Need I say more?
The first set opened with Marino wailing on a gutsy Mercer Ellington tune, “Things Ain’t What They Used To Be” followed by Miles Davis’ “Seven Steps to Heaven.” Then the band went back to a low-down, gutsy moderately tempo “Night Train.” Many more jazz offerings came in both first and second musical sets, such as Castellano’s excellent vocal interpretation of “My Funny Valentine”, “The Way You Looked Tonight”, and “But Not For Me.” Marino was able to demonstrate why fellow jazz musicians refer to him as being from the “Old School.” It’s in the way he plays his tenor saxophone, especially on Miles Davis’ tune “All Blues”, “Body and Soul”, and the popular Sonny Rollins tune “St. Thomas.” On the other hand, Loomer went bananas with mind-dazzling drum solos on “Caravan” and “Cherokee.” All the while, playing in the background, Wallace’s bass playing kept each musician “on point.” His bass solos on several of the tunes brought the audience to absolute quiet…a sign of respect and admiration.
At the end of the concert, as the audience was leaving the building, small groups of patrons who lingered behind were overheard saying how much they appreciated the concert and anticipated returning to the Firehouse Cultural Center to hear more choice sounds of jazz. There’s no doubt that the Firehouse Cultural Center is definitely on its’ way to becoming “The Place” for jazz in the Tampa Bay Area. Hat’s off to Georgia Vahue, FCC Executive Director for “Keeping Jazz Alive.”Remember to “Keep Jazz Alive” by “Supporting Live Jazz!”
BY JESSE WASHINGTON
AP National Writer
Malcolm X and rap music have always fit together like a needle in the groove, connected by struggle, strength and defiance. But three recent episodes involving the use or misuse of Malcolm and other black icons have raised the question: Has rap lost touch with black history?
Chart-topping rapstress Nicki Minaj provoked widespread outrage with an Instagram post featuring one of black history's most poignant images: Malcolm X peering out the window of his home, rifle in hand, trying to defend his wife and children from firebombs while under surveillance by federal agents. Superimposed on the photo: the title of Minaj's new song, which denigrates certain black men and repeats the N-word 42 times.
That came after Minaj's mentor Lil Wayne recorded a verse last year using the civil rights martyr Emmett Till in a sexual metaphor, and the hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons posted a Harriet Tubman "sex tape" video on his comedy channel.
What is happening to mainstream rap music, which was launched by Simmons and is now ruled by the likes of Minaj and Wayne?
"I don't want to say today's rappers are not educated about black history, but they don't seem as aware as rap generations before them," said Jermaine Hall, editor-in-chief of Vibe, the hip-hop magazine and website.
While previous generations had to struggle with the racism and neglect of the 1970s or the crack epidemic of the 1980s, Hall said, today's young people have not faced the same type of racial struggle - "They're sort of getting further and further away from the civil rights movement."
"In the `80s, whether it was KRS-One, Public Enemy, or the Native Tongues, that entire movement, it was very in tune with black history," Hall said. "They knew everything about Malcolm, about Martin, about Rosa Parks. Now, the new rappers just aren't as in tune."
Indeed, Minaj issued a statement expressing disbelief at the uproar and apologizing to Malcolm's family "if the meaning of the photo was misconstrued." Wayne wrote to the Till family to "acknowledge your hurt, as well as the letter you sent to me via your attorneys." Simmons was the only one to say, "I am sincerely sorry."
The apologies did not change much for Pierre Bennu, a filmmaker and artist who said Malcolm X's life was dedicated to advocating for the humanity of black people, while Minaj's song was simply dehumanizing.
When he saw Minaj's manipulation, Bennu said, "I felt punched in the gut."
The episode inspired him to post a mash-up video (http://bit.ly/1fpoFYB ) laying Minaj's song over the infamous 1941 Walter Lantz cartoon "Scrub Me Mama With A Boogie Beat," which depicts a town of lazy black people hypnotized by a seductive washerwoman.
Various mainstream rap artists seem reluctant to defend Minaj and Wayne; The Associated Press sought out five, but none returned calls for comment.
Jasiri X, a rapper whose music focuses on black empowerment and current events, said many of today's mainstream rappers use images of revolutionary black icons to promote an anti-establishment image.
"All the while, they're being funded and pushed by major corporations," he said.
"All the while, they're being funded and pushed by major corporations," he said. "I see Nicki and other artists, whether Kanye or Jay-Z, adopting these revolutionary images or using a clip or saying their name, but never practice the principles which these revolutionaries gave their lives for," Jasiri said.
It wasn't always so.
"All the while, they're being funded and pushed by major corporations," he said. "I see Nicki and other artists, whether Kanye or Jay-Z, adopting these revolutionary images or using a clip or saying their name, but never practice the principles which these revolutionaries gave their lives for," Jasiri said. It wasn't always so.
Davey attended many early rap concerts at Harlem's Audubon Ballroom, where Malcolm was assassinated. As the music gained steam, X was constantly honored on wax. KRS-One duplicated Malcolm's gun-in-the-window pose on the cover of his 1988 classic album, "By Any Means Necessary." In 1991, Tupac rhymed on "Words of Wisdom": "No Malcolm X in my history text, why is that?/Cause he tried to educate and liberate all blacks."
Malcolm's voice and image appeared on so many records and videos, "many would remark that he was an emcee," Davey wrote.
Tubman also is a longtime rap staple, mentioned by everyone from Ice Cube ("She helped me run like Harriet Tubman") to Pharoahe Monch ("A railroad to underground like Harriet Tubman"). Till, too, has been mentioned in songs such as Kanye's breakthrough 2003 single "Through The Wire."
But today's rappers reflect our money-obsessed society, said Bakari Kitwana, whose Rap Sessions organization just moderated a series of community dialogues between the civil rights and hip-hop generations.
"We see a lot of things going on with our young people, and we don't feel like we are teaching them values that can compete with the way the value of money is ingrained in our culture," Kitwana said. "Everything is just focused on money. If you can get money, whatever else you're doing doesn't matter."
"It's reached a crisis point," he said. "I came up in the `70s and `80s, and greed has always been present, but I don't think I've ever seen it like it is now."
He was echoed by Paradise Gray, who performed in the 1980s with the Afrocentric rap group X Clan.
"Mainstream rap music has lost its reverence for anything besides money," Gray said.
Today's rappers threaten to kill people who disrespect them, "but they sit back and let you disrespect our legacy, our culture, our history," he said.
"What," Gray asked, "will the disrespect of your humanity and your blackness cost you?"
BY JESSICA HERNDON
AP Film Writer
BEVERLY HILLS (AP) – When Bette Davis became the first female president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 1941, it's believed she was met with such opposition by the predominantly male organization that she resigned after two months.
The motion picture academy has seen only two other women in the top post since then: writer-producer Fay Kanin in 1979 and now film executive Cheryl Boone Isaacs, who has also become the organization's first black president.
Seven months into her new position, Isaacs is still adjusting to the excitement of her appointment and the weight it has within the film community.
"It's different being a minority in a majority space," said Isaacs in her office at the Beverly Hills headquarters of the academy, long known as being predominantly white, male and over 50.
A poster of Oscar Micheaux's 1931 film "The Exile" hangs on the red accent wall across from her desk. The words "Mighty Modern All Talking Epic of Negro Life" are emblazoned across the top of the placard. "My parent's favorite phrase was 'Just get above it' and I must say that I have to put that into practice here," she said. "But it doesn't stop your personal self-doubts."
As the face now representing the 6,100-member academy, Isaacs knows there's a lot riding on her decisions and responses. "I really try to get to the reality of a situation and have a conversation with myself and ask 'Are you being reactive? Are you being defensive?'" said the 64-year-old, who became a member of the academy in 1988 after launching her career as a publicist at Columbia Pictures in 1977.
"There are things you can't do," she added. "You can't get angry because then you are just an angry black woman. As women we do have that and then being a minority, there is this extra layer."
As a teenager growing up in western Massachusetts in the 1960s, Isaacs looked up to her older brother Ashley, who worked as an advertising and publicity executive at United Artists in New York. "He was hip and would come home with 16 mm films and screen them in the dining room," she recalled, citing her brother, who died of cancer in 1994, as fostering her love of film. When Ashley moved to Los Angeles, Isaacs followed.
"I was living in San Francisco working as a stewardess for Pan American and I needed to get serious," recalled the Whittier College graduate. "I knocked on doors and started at Columbia."
In 1984, she became the director of publicity at Paramount Pictures and in 1997 she transitioned to New Line Cinema, becoming the studio's first black president of theatrical marketing.
"The thing I like most is strategy," said Isaacs, who ran the publicity campaigns for "Forrest Gump," ''Braveheart" and "Rush Hour." ''At New Line, I was involved with filmmakers that were diverse and it really gave a nice perspective."
Diversity is at the heart of how she'll make her mark at the academy. "I am active in our member engagement and am seeking diverse talent domestically as well as internationally," said Isaacs, who was recently inducted into the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Hall of Fame. She also plans to boost the academy's mentoring programs, the student academy awards and the scientific and technical council.
"Having Cheryl as president shows that the opportunities are widening," says Cori Murray, Essence magazine's entertainment director. Essence will honor Isaacs with the trailblazer award at the annual Women in Hollywood Luncheon on Feb. 27. "She is an inspiration," added Murray.
Lately, the film world has seen growing diversity within its ranks, from the 2013 appointment of the first black and openly gay president of the Directors Guild, to the many artists of color up for Oscars this season. "When we get a chance to participate we do really well," said Isaacs. "This year is going to show that."
In January, the academy's hardnosed decision to rescind the nomination of "Alone Yet Not Alone" because the composer lobbied fellow voting members via email, set the tone for Isaac's tenure. "It was a difficult situation, but needed," she said. "We must stay vigilant and stand firm with our principles. That matters in voting and in life."
Other key decisions by Isaacs have included steering plans for the $300 million movie museum the academy is scheduled to open in Los Angeles in 2017 and hiring Ellen DeGeneres as the host of the Academy Awards last Sunday.
BY JOYCE NANETTE JOHNSON
ST. PETERSBURG –With the aid of his artwork, Lynn Brady is able to battle debilitating medical issues by putting pencil to paper and creating art that expresses his individuality. He uses his artwork as therapy; it calms his mind and gives him hope for the future.
Brady was introduced to drawing at the age of seven. “The art teacher drew the letter M on my paper and when she finished it was a dog,” he said. “It made me feel like I could do it also.”
That was the beginning of his love for drawing. At Gibbs High School he took classes for drafting and architecture. He laughed as he reminisced how he would often get in trouble in class for drawing and sketching instead of staying on task.
Brady’s first wall hanging worthy drawing was a replication of the work of renowned African-American artist Ernie Barnes whose work was featured on the 1970’s sitcom “Good Times.”
With no one around to push him in the right direction for a career in the arts, he soon became discouraged.
“I couldn’t go to college and no one during those times inspired me to continue. I gave up,” he said.
Born at Mercy Hospital and graduated from Gibbs High School class of 1971, Brady continued his education at Vocational Technical Institute, now known as Pinellas Technical Education Center. The art classes were filled so he took sign and letters courses. Eventually he was hired on by the city as a heavy equipment operator and his dreams of being an artist were put on the back burner.
Retired after 26 years with the City of St. Petersburg, Brady is most proud of the fact that he has installed and worked on most of the baseball fields in the city including Tropicana Fields.
During those years his first love of drawing and painting continued to stir in his soul and he continued his craft privately. Eventually word got out that he was talented and a few assignments came his way.
Brady was asked to paint his first professional piece of art when the Miss Black St. Petersburg Contest asked him to paint a sign in 1980. Then his job requested several of his drawings of city equipment that they took a Miami industrial trade show.
Brady sketches with pencil and then fills them in with vibrant Crayola pens. Now that he is regaining his strength he will soon start using watercolors. With no specific way of picking his subjects, they can be as diverse as a “Pimp Cockroach” to action cartoon characters.
He said his art lets him use his imagination and he feels that he can inspire the youth of the community to utilize theirs also. Brady stressed that art can keep kids out of trouble and give them an alternative to deal with personal problems and peer pressure.
“Their imagination can take them anywhere,” Brady said. “It also is another release to keep [them] from the negative. They can put an ending to it by drawing it.”His friend Abdul Hakim, member of the St. Petersburg Islamic Center, chimed in on the benefit of art lectures and motivation that Brady has offered at their youth programs.
He gives credit to his deceased mother, Annie Brady, who he said inspired him to be appreciative and fair.
“Art accents our culture and it will explain what’s on our minds individually,” Brady concluded. “It will help deal with stuff on their mind and if it’s put on paper they can explain it to themselves.
Although he is not known yet for his artwork, he’s known for his clothing. A self-professed “shopaholic and a fashion freak,” he has three bedrooms full of clothes. Filled with stylish suits, matching hats and coordinated ties, Brady dresses himself like the artwork he creates.
He is hoping that his artwork will soon become acknowledged and appreciated by a wider audience.
To inquire about Lynn Brady’s artwork, please contact The Weekly Challenger at 727-896-2922.
BY FRANK DROUZAS
ST. PETERSBURG — Creator of the interactive dinner theater show “Murder on Blueberry Hill,” Gladys Adams is holding a casting call for this production and is encouraging novice and experienced actors alike of all races to join the troupes.
“We are looking for performers that can sing—at least carry a tune,” Adams said. “We do have a little dancing in the show and part of the audience participation is teaching them dances like the Stroll, Hand-Jive and Twist. We also try to showcase an actor’s special talent, whether it is singing or dancing, whenever possible.”
Adams is looking for diversity and is encouraging African Americans to join the cast. Finding a diverse cast had not been a problem in all of her years of producing plays until she landed in the bay area.
The setting of this murder mystery is a dinner honoring the memory of Mai Thril and the reading of her will. All the characters had motives for murdering Mai Thril on Blueberry Hill. The play is scripted but there is improvisation as each actor goes into the audience to mingle with the guests.
“They will stay in character to do this,” Adams noted. “There are prizes—one for guessing who the killer is—so they audience tries to get that out of the performers.”
Adams would like to create a matinee troupe and an evening troupe. Shows run typically two to two and a half hours, but length can be determined by the audience and the emcee who controls that portion of the show. Each act typically runs 20-30 minutes with each of the four acts getting shorter as the show progresses.
“We provide food for the rehearsal and shows for the actors and we rehearse usually three times a week except when close to opening, when it can be more. We do a full rehearsal before the show starts then we have fewer rehearsals thereafter, probably one or twice a week or one longer one on the weekend,” Adams explained.
The actors are to meet either in Gulfport/St. Pete or Tampa depending on where the cast is located. Characters can be any color, and they include:
Donny B. - Not educated and mentally challenged, he sees people who are not there and provides goofy comic relief. In his late 20s to 30s, he talks to Johnny Cash (this was before the country music star’s death).
Don - (this character could also be a woman named Dawn) Lawyer type that can play a nerd in his/her 30s, and distinguished looking. Athletic build, charismatic.Detective Friday - Joe Friday from Dragnet (“Just the facts” type). Conservative, straight-laced, goofy. Can be 35-50 years old.
Laura - Girl next door type, sympathetic character and a pretty girl. Hairstylist fashion type in her 20s-30s.
Peggy Sue - She is the trampy vamp who dresses provocatively and usually inappropriate for her age (late 30s - 40). Hung up on her looks; she wears too much makeup.
Don’t let the ages of the characters scare away the young folks. Adams will gladly accept high school drama students into the fold.
There are some original songs in the play, with some using familiar melodies from the 1950s and 1960s. Many of the venues are yet to be determined, but Adams is considering retirement homes, restaurants and various other locations everywhere from Tampa to Sarasota.
“My initial plan is to let this show run at venues for four months and then switch it to another show at that time,” Adams said. “So this will run from March until the end of June. Then we will bring another show, probably our 1970s show but that is not a definitive yet.”
The actors’ pay for each show is up to $50 and Adams said she is open to using newcomers as well as seasoned actors who have a dream.
“We have some newcomers in the show now and they are doing a wonderful job,” she said. “As a matter of fact, the director is one of those newcomers. I like to use different people to give the show a fresh and diverse feel each time. We even mix up the ending so the killer is not the same each time.”
Musicians play songs of the era as the guests arrive to get them in the mood. The audience can sit and listen or dance, Adams said, adding that many guests dress the part for the era.
Adams has been producing shows for about 20 years, starting in Atlanta with a 1970s production about the disco era. She has themed productions, which are set in the 1950s all the way through the 1980s, and is about to start working on a 1990s show.
“When I lived in New York City,” Adams explained, “my favorite thing was going to the theater and this affords me in a very small way to be a part of something that I love dearly. Since retiring, it was on my bucket list. It gives me so much joy to do and to allow others to achieve their dream as well.”
For more info, contact Gladys Adams at (678) 832-3621 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
To reach Frank Drouzas, email email@example.com.
BY JESSICA HERNDON
AP FILM WRITER
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (AP) -- Lupita Nyong'o is preparing herself for normalcy. After the frenzy that's followed her gripping performance in "12 Years a Slave," she wants to be ready for life back home in New York.
"I try to keep my regimen - rest, water, eat well, workout - so that when this is all over, I don't experience a total hangover," she says, taking a bite of scrambled eggs in a recent interview at a Beverly Hills cafe.
She hasn't yet accepted that her life may never be the same. "I have a very ostrich mentality," she says. "I feel like I have my head in the sand so no one can see me."
Before playing slave Patsey in Steve McQueen's brutal tale of a free black man kidnapped into slavery in the 19th century South, Nyong'o was virtually unknown. Now, as a supporting actress Oscar nominee, she's become a breakout star.
When she received the call from McQueen saying she had landed the role, "I was so elated," she recalls. "But then I immediately panicked. I was so scared."
No wonder; this would be her first major role after attending the Yale School of Drama. Yet shooting the film gave her the confidence she needed coming out of school. "It was an amazing feeling," she says.
Now, with all eyes on what she'll do next, the actress refuses to stress about securing another role that's equally as celebrated.
"The bar has been set very high externally and internally," she says. "But I don't want to feed into that pressure of expectation. This film was so fulfilling and artistic. I've tasted that and I obviously want to experience that kind of creative fulfillment again, but I also know that I can't replicate that. I want a varied acting experience and that may include some failure and that's healthy."
Actually, Nyong'o's next film is already in the can and ready for release on Feb. 28: She plays a flight attendant opposite Liam Neeson in the action-thriller "Non-Stop." "It was what I needed to do," she says. "It was the perfect antidote to '12 Years a Slave.' It was a different genre with different demands. It was very technical and fun."
Growing up in Kenya, Nyong'o says her parents encouraged her and her five siblings to "find out what we were called on this earth to do and then do it to excellence."
Before former Kenya president Daniel Arap Moi allowed multi-party politics in 1991, Nyong'o' father, Peter Anyang' Nyong'o, was an advocate for democratic reform, opposing Kenya's autocratic regime. Then a political science teacher, Nyong'o's father relocated his family to Mexico City for their safety. It was there that Nyong'o was born, yet her family returned to Kenya before she was a year old.
Nyong'o says her parents have been supportive of her Hollywood success but have also taken the excitement in stride. "It's nice to have parents like that because they're thrilled," she says. "But they're not shaken by it."
(Nyong'o's father is now a Kisumu County senator and her mother, Dorothy Nyong'o, is the managing director of the Africa Cancer Foundation.)
With the Academy Awards less than two weeks away, the 30-year-old actress says she wants to continue to savor every moment, even the overwhelming ones.
"The Hollywood Film Awards were really stressful," she remembers of the October ceremony, where she shared the spotlight with the likes of Julia Roberts and Matthew McConaughey. "It was the biggest press line I'd ever seen. It was difficult to orient myself, but there are familiar faces now, so it becomes less daunting."
Not only blessed with significant acting ability, Nyong'o's striking beauty and bold fashion choices have made her one of the most talked-about celebs on the red carpet.
From the turquoise Gucci column gown she wore to the Screen Actors Guild Awards to the emerald green Christian Dior dress she chose for the British Academy of Film and Television Arts awards last weekend, she's what "12 Years a Slave" screenwriter John Ridley calls "undeniably poised and graceful."
Never the girl who thumbed through Vogue (now she appears in the magazine as the face of fashion house Miu Miu), Nyong'o began buying fashion magazines in preparation for all of the formal events she expected to attend following the success of "12 Years."
"I was like, `OK, I have to research,'" she recalls with a giggle. But letting herself "dress large" has been scary, she admits. Referencing the scarlet Ralph Lauren dress she wore to the Golden Globes, she adds, "It had a cape! That was exhilarating."
Despite her tendency to make fashion statements in stunning ensembles, she doesn't feel pressure to always deliver a talked-about look. And the same goes for her feelings about Oscar night.
"I feel privileged that people are looking up to me and perhaps a dream will be born because of my presence," she says. "But my responsibility is to just keep on pursuing my dreams and goals and the admiration will take care of itself."
Notes Whoopi Goldberg, who Nyong'o cites as an inspiration after watching her in "The Color Purple" as a child: "Hollywood is a very strange place. Lupita has to be really glad people want her autograph and know that she has the right to say `Not right now.' But no one can limit her conversation to race because she's better than that. She's a great visual for why dreaming is OK."
LONDON (AP) -- The force of "Gravity" was strong at the British Academy Film Awards on Sunday - but it was unflinching drama "12 Years a Slave" that took the top prize.
Steve McQueen's visceral, violent story of a free black man kidnapped into servitude in the 19th-century U.S. South was named best picture. Its star, Chiwetel Ejiofor, took the male acting trophy.
Ejiofor thanked McQueen, a visual artist who turned to filmmaking with "Hunger" and "Shame," for bringing the story to the screen.
Holding the trophy, the British actor told McQueen: "This is yours. I'm going to keep it - that's the kind of guy I am - but it's yours."
McQueen reminded the ceremony's black-tie audience that, in some parts of the world, slavery is not a thing of the past.
"There are 21 million people in slavery as we sit here," he said. "I just hope 150 years from now our ambivalence will not allow another filmmaker to make this film."
The prizes, coming two weeks before Hollywood's Academy Awards, are watched as an indicator of likely Oscars success.
It was a good night for lost-in-space thriller "Gravity," which won six prizes, including best director for Alfonso Cuaron.
The 3-D special effects extravaganza also took the awards for sound, music, cinematography and visual effects. And despite its mixed parentage - made in Britain by a Mexican director and starring American actors -it was named best British film.
Cuaron paid tribute to star Sandra Bullock, who is alone onscreen for much of the film.
"Without her performance, everything would have been nonsense," he said.
Con-artist caper "American Hustle" charmed its way to three prizes, including original screenplay and supporting actress for Jennifer Lawrence. Its spectacular 70s stylings took the hair and makeup award.
The best-actress prize went to Cate Blanchett for her turn as a socialite on the slide in "Blue Jasmine." She dedicated the award to her friend and fellow actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, who died this month, calling him "a monumental presence who is now sadly an absence."
"Phil, buddy, this is for you, you bastard. I hope you're proud," Blanchett said.
The supporting actor prize went to Barkhad Abdi, who made an explosive screen debut as a Somali pirate in "Captain Phillips."
The 28-year-old called his experience of going from obscurity in Minnesota to stardom - complete with an Oscar nomination - "surreal."
In the past few years, the British prizes, known as BAFTAs, have helped underdog films, including "Slumdog Millionaire," "The King's Speech" and "The Artist," gain Oscars momentum.
The prize for adapted screenplay went to "Philomena," based on the true story of an Irish woman's decades-long search for the son she was forced to give up for adoption.
The awards have become an essential stop for many Hollywood stars before the Academy Awards, held this year on March 2.
The temperature in London was hardly Hollywood, but Britain's fickle weather relented ahead of Sunday's ceremony. The sun shone as nominees including "Wolf of Wall Street" star Leonardo DiCaprio and "12 Years a Slave" performer Lupita Nyong'o- striking in a green Dior gown - walked the red carpet outside London's Royal Opera House.
Best-actress nominee Amy Adams wore a black dress by Victoria Beckham, and revealed the inspirations for her "American Hustle" character's faux-British accent: "Marianne Faithfull and Julie Christie."
There was royalty of the Hollywood kind - Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, wearing matching tuxedos. And there was British royalty, too, in the form of Prince William, honorary president of the film academy.
The documentary prize went to Joshua Oppenheimer's "The Act of Killing," a powerful look at hundreds of thousands of killings carried out in 1960s Indonesia in the name of fighting communism.
Will Poulter ("Son of Rambow," "We're the Millers"), a 21-year-old actor, won the rising star award, decided by public vote.
Director Peter Greenaway received an award for outstanding contribution to British cinema for a body of unsettling, comic and erotic films that includes "The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover" and "The Draughtsman's Contract."
Greenaway said he hoped the trophy would encourage those, like him, "who believe that cinema has to be continually reinvented."
Helen Mirren received the British Academy Fellowship in recognition of a career that has ranged from a hard-nosed detective in TV series "Prime Suspect" to Queen Elizabeth II in "The Queen."
Mirren, 68, said she was "almost speechless" at receiving the honor, whose previous recipients include Charlie Chaplin, Alfred Hitchcock, Elizabeth Taylor and Judi Dench.
"It's been an amazing journey up to now," she said.
She was given the trophy by Prince William - who said he should probably call her "granny." Mirren won an Oscar for playing his grandmother, Britain's monarch, in "The Queen."
"I wanted to have a hanky in my bag and take it out and spit on it and clean his face," Mirren joked.