Africa is on the move. From politics to business to the arts, things are changing, being driven by innovators and visionaries, both good and bad. To reflect on a busy year for the continent, we profile the most influential Africans of 2014.
Lupita Nyong’o, The African icon – Kenya
2014 was Lupita’s year. In February her dreams were validated when she won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Patsy in 12 Years a Slave. An emerging beauty and fashion icon, Lupita was also appointed ambassador for Lancôme cosmetics. She has bagged the film rights for Adichie’s Americanah, and she is set to feature in the upcoming Star Wars film. 2015 may belong to Lupita as well.
Chiwetel Ejiofor, The Hollywood A-lister -Nigeria
The star of 12 Years a Slave didn’t win the Oscar for best actor in the end, but that hasn’t slowed down Chiwetel Ejiofor’s slow but steady conquering of Hollywood. This year saw the international release of Half of a Yellow Sun, directed by Biyi Bandele, while next year he will play a Cold War scientist in the post-apocalyptic Z For Zachariah and an intrepid space traveller in Ridley Scott’s The Martian. Perhaps even more excitingly, the Nigerian actor is also being tipped to play James Bond’s next nemesis.
Trevor Noah, Africa’s favourite funnyman – South Africa
Trevor Noah’s irreverence continues to entertain a global audience, best exemplified by his tour across southern Africa and his appearances on prominent shows such as the Late Show with David Letterman. A 2014 Personality of the Year nominee at the MTV Africa awards, Noah has also sold the most DVDs of any comedian on the continent. What will he do next?
Sophie Okonedo, The actor who dominated Broadway – Nigeria
“What happens to a dream deferred?” Langston Hughes once wrote. Nigerian-British actor Sophie Okonedo would not know, despite taking to the stage as Ruth Younger in the revival of The Raisin in the Sun, whose title comes from the same Hughes poem. Okonedo’s dreams have readily come true. She won the 2014 Tony Award for Best Performance by an Actress, and received a personal backstage visit from the impressed Obamas. Not a bad way to spend 2014.
Abderrahmane Sissako, The master director – Mauritania
Abderrahmane Sissako, the Mauritanian director who grew up in Mali, already had an international reputation for mesmerising filmmaking. But his heartrending, human, and at times humorous 2014 film Timbuktu has elevated him to new levels of admiration. The film, which won the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury and the François Chalais Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, follows the stories of people struggling, rebelling and striving to maintain their humanity under Islamist occupation in northern Mali.
Jim Chuchu, The unique voice – Kenya
As part of the innovatively unconventional band, Just a Band, Jim Chuchu had already marked himself out as a unique creative presence, a reputation he maintained with his fantastical 2013 short film Homecoming and post-apocalyptic photography projects. But this year, he took his non-mainstream creativity in a brave and controversial new direction with the critically-acclaimed Stories of Our Lives, a film made up of five fictional vignettes based on true stories about life as part of the LGBTI community in Kenya.