On a recent Monday afternoon in June, Lupita Nyong’o is hovering above six of her closest friends, who are swiveling atop the black leather barber style chairs inside New York City’s sunlit Ludlow Blunt salon. They have come from all over the Eastern seaboard for the day to have Nyong’o braid their hair. “Lu’s ‘Do’s,’” they call out, referencing the Oscar-winning actress’s hidden talent for professional-level plaiting, before breaking into peels of laughter. “Four and a half stars on Yelp!”
As Nyong’o sets to twisting Bantu knots, sculpting dookie braids, and meticulously sectioning hair into cornrows, her friends close their eyes and lean to her will. It’s a ritual they’ve been taking part of together for over a decade, since the Kenya-bred actress made a vow to master the skill while attending Amherst’s Hampshire College after finding herself “morbidly disappointed” with braiding salons stateside. She vowed to learn how to style her own and held hopes of turning it into a money-making “side hustle” at drama school. It turned out to be neither; holding her arms above her own head for such a long time felt like “an act of madness,” she laughingly admits, and she didn’t have the heart to charge her friends.