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Lupita Nyong'o receives Breakthrough Performance Award at Palm Spring Film Fest

Actress Lupita Nyong'o was presented with the Breakthrough Performance Award at the Palm Springs International Film Festival at its annual awards gala on Saturday, Jan. 4, 2014, in Palm Springs, Calif. Nyong'o was honored for her work in her new film "12 Years a Slave." Presented by Cartier, the 25th Annual Palm Springs International Film Festival Awards Gala was hosted by television personality Mary Hart. The awards gala also presented honors to Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Sandra Bullock, director Steve McQueen, Matthew McConaughey, Bruce Dern, Thomas Newman and the cast of "American Hustle." The Festival runs January 3-14, 2014.

Lupita Nyong'o stars in '12 Years a Slave.'
Lupita Nyong'o stars in '12 Years a Slave.'
Movie still image courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures
Lupita Nyong'o  receives Breakthrough Performance Award at Palm Spring Film Festival.
Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Actress Alfre Woodard presented the new actress with the Breakthrough Performance Award saying "Whip out your sunglasses darling...a star has arrived."

Lupita, in a tearful speech, spoke of taking her family to Louisiana to the plantation that Patsey (her character in "12 Years a Slave") was raised on. "I played a suffering role, but I did not suffer. Thanks to director Steve McQueen for creating a family on set."

“Lupita Nyong’o is outstanding as the exploited slave whose beauty attracts the attention of Michael Fassbender’s vicious slave master. She delivers a raw and deeply moving performance that serves as the fulcrum for the film’s message of the inhumanity of slavery,” said Film Festival Chairman Harold Matzner. “For her American film debut in '12 Years a Slave,' it is a great honor for the Palm Springs International Film Festival to present her with the 2014 Breakthrough Performance Award.”

Past recipients of the Breakthrough Performance Award include Jennifer Hudson, Mariah Carey, Felicity Huffman, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Renner and Carey Mulligan. Many of these performers went on to get recognition for their work by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. Jennifer Hudson won her Oscar in 2007 for "Dreamgirls" and Marion Cotillard won her Oscar in 2008 for "La Vie en Rose."

"12 Years a Slave" is set in pre-Civil War American and is based on the actual accounts of Solomon Northrup. He was a free man living with a family of his own in the north in pre-civil war America and made money by playing the violin. He was tricked into believing a high-paying circus job was waiting for him, but after traveling to Virginia, he was drugged, kidnapped and eventually sold in slavery. Solomon (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is sent to Louisiana where he sold to a family that owned a cotton farm. The family is fairly nice, considering they are slave owners, but Solomon's life goes in a much worst direction when his owner meets hard times and has to sell his slaves to the cruelest man in town Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender).

One female slave Patsey (Lupita Nyong'o) seems to have it good at first as Epps' mistress, but eventually she is living in a no-win situation as Epps wife does everything to make Patsey's life as bad as possible.

Solomon makes an effort to write a letter and have someone mail it, but he is found out and his months of planning are wasted. When a carpenter from Canada named Bass (Brad Pitt) visits the plantation to do some work, Solomon takes the risk of confiding with the man that makes it clear that he is against slavery. A friend of Solomon's from the North comes to bring him home.

Lupita Nyong’o's was born in Mexico, raised in Kenya and educated in the Unites States. Her performance in "12 Years a Slave" is her feature film debut. She graduated from the Drama School at Yale in 2012. She has had experience behind the camera working as a crew member for "The Constant Gardener" and "The Namesake." She has also is an independent filmmaker. She was the creator, producer, director and editor for her Kenyan film "In My Genes."

Lupita Nyong'o has already garnered nominations for Best Supporting Actress for both the Golden Globe Awards and the Screen Actor Guild Awards. She is assured to get a nomination for an Oscar as well.

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Whatever your movie choice this week, please remember your movie theater etiquette: silence your cellphones and no texting, please don't talk during the film and remove your children if they become a distraction to other audience members. Don't forget that laughing, crying and cheering are always approved behavior and even encouraged.

-Kay Shackleton is a film historian with special focus on Silent Films, see her work at

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