For his services to the arts, this British-Nigerian actor has been appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II. For his role as American abolitionist Solomon in "12 Years a Slave," he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor. Today, we're paying tribute to the diverse talents of Chiwetel Ejiofor.
How You Know Him
He was devastatingly impactful in "12 Years a Slave." He was memorable as the mentor and ultimately villainous mystic Karl Mordo in "Doctor Strange." He was the voice of Scar in the Jon Favreau version of "The Lion King." And he's made his mark in recent hits "Maleficent: Mistress of Evil" with Angelina Jolie; "The Old Guard" with Charlize Theron; and as the co-star of pandemic heist comedy "Locked Down" with Anne Hathaway.
He's also been amazing as the lead in the cult classic martial arts film "Redbelt" and playing antagonist The Operative in the fan favorite "Serenity." Amongst his 40 or so film projects from the last quarter century are the commercial and critical hits "Amistad" (his movie debut), "Melinda and Melinda," "Children of Men," "Talk to Me," "American Gangster," "The Martian" and "Sherlock Gnomes."
Their Life So Far
Ejiofor grew up in upper-middle class London the son of a doctor, Arinze, and a pharmacist, Obiajulu, of Nigerian Igbo descent. His younger sister, Zain Asher, is a reporter for CNN.
During his middle school years, Ejiofor became active in the theater and later joined the National Youth Theatre, and was accepted into the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. A year into his studies, though, he had already secured a role in Steven Spielberg's 19th century slave ship drama "Amistad."
Throughout his career, Ejiofor has appeared on the small screen and stage, too, winning accolades for his performances in William Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet," the acclaimed "Blue/Orange," the BBC radio plays "I Was a Stranger" and "Dionysus," and Golden-Globe nominated turns in the television projects "Tsunami: the Aftermath" and the BBC's "Dancing on the Edge" (playing '30s jazz band leader Louis Lester).
The Movie to Watch
"12 Years a Slave," based on Solomon Northrop's memoir, tells the powerful, unforgettable story of Northrop's experience. Born a free man in New York, Northrop was kidnapped in 1841 and sold into slavery in Louisiana. The extreme hardships and the cruelties he and other slaves endured are almost unbearable to watch, but Ejiofor captures an unshakeable strength and resistance and humanity that pulls viewers through, and creates an empathy that makes the film more than just art – it is a call for understanding of our history, and a demand for positive action and progress.
What's Up Next
Ejiofor returns to genre fare with his next projects. He'll co-star with Mark Wahlberg and Dylan O'Brien in "Infinite," about a man whose hallucinations may be visions from past lives. And he'll return to the multiverse with Doctor Strange in "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness."
More Black History Month Highlights:
About the Author
Chuck is an editor/writer who's worked for NCM, Fandango, Movies.com, MediaTrip, Hollywood.com and Newsweek. His favorite movie is "Jaws." He's definitely a dog guy.