Lupita Nyong'o knows what society expects her to do, but that doesn't mean she's going to do it.
In an essay featured in Tuesday morning's edition of Lenny Letter, the star of the Broadway play, "Eclipsed," wrote about how a journalist once asked why someone with her Hollywood status would decide to do "such a small play." For her, the question "felt quite silly" because the story of "Eclipsed" is far from "small." She wrote that the question exposed bigger societal expectations of women, especially women of color.
"I knew there was a sense of what was expected of me, but this play felt so important to me that I had to do it, expectations be damned," she wrote.
"I think as women, as women of color, as black women, too often we hear about what we 'need to do,'" she wrote. "How we need to behave, what we need to wear, what’s deemed as too much or not enough, the cultural politics of what society considers appropriate for us and for our lives."
Nyong'o, who is nominated for a Tony Award for her "Eclipsed" performance, wrote that she turned down projects in order to do the play because its message was so important to her. For inspiration, she looks to the careers of "fearless actresses" like Viola Davis and Tilda Swinton who "approach every role without ego or vanity" whether they're the star of the show or have a minor part. She also keeps in mind the damaging tropes about women of color that exist in Hollywood in an effort to combat them.
"So often women of color are relegated to playing simple tropes: the sidekick, the best friend, the noble savage, or the clown," she wrote. "We are confined to being a simple and symbolic peripheral character — one who doesn’t have her own journey or emotional landscape."
Nyong'o's decision to take on a project ultimately comes down to two vital questions.
"What I am learning is that the most important questions you can ask yourself are 'What do I want?' and 'Who do I want to become?'" she wrote.
And "Eclipsed" is exactly what Nyong'o wanted, "a work of incredible power" that is visible on stage and behind the scenes.
"I look at this play — it’s the first play on Broadway to feature an all-woman cast, playwright, and director, and the fact that we are all women of African descent makes it even more incredible — and I feel profound gratitude to be a part of it," she wrote.
In her essay, she applauded the many women involved in the play, including her co-stars. She also applauded herself for taking on the project, a decision she made all on her own.
"I am proud of my decision to take the time to sit with myself and not get caught up in what others want for me."