Immediately afterward, Nyong'o became a new red-carpet darling and was even named People's Most Beautiful Person.
The actress called experience a "long roller-coaster ride," making her crave a return to her art, according to a new interview in Vogue magazine.
In fact, she took advice from "12 Years a Slave" director Steve McQueen, who suggested: "'You have to go right back to the beginning, to when you saw your first film or dressed up, and remind yourself what the purpose is, why you got into the profession, because you get seduced by the obvious.'"
That prompted the actress to star in Danai Gurira's "Eclipsed" on Broadway. Nyong'o even earned a Tony Award nomination for Best Actress in a Play last year.
Nyong'o has now returned to the big screen in roles such as 2015's "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" and this year's "Jungle Book." The actress said that through her upcoming roles in African-centric films such as "Queen of Katwe" and the film adaptation of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's "Americanah," she hopes to influence how the world views the continent.
"Being able to use my platform to expand and diversify the African voice, I feel very passionate about that," she said in the magazine. "It feels intentional, meaningful.”
Nyong'o was born in Mexico but raised in Nairobi, Kenya, by an influential political family.
The actress said her Oscar win allowed her to challenge society's notions of beauty.
"The European sense of beauty affects us all," she explained. "I came home from college in the early 2000s and saw ads on TV with a girl who can’t get a job. She uses this product. She gets her skin lighter. She gets the job. The lording of lighter skin is a common thing growing up in Nairobi. Being called ‘black mamba.’ The slow burn of recognizing something else is better than you."
Then Nyong'o recalls seeing supermodel Alek Wek, "who looked so much like me," and it gave her newfound confidence. Years later, Nyong'o finds herself having the same affect on actresses coming behind her.
"Alek Wek changed how dark people saw themselves. That I could do the same in a way for somebody somewhere is amazing," she told Vogue. "There is no point in getting your picture taken if it doesn’t move somebody. Right?"