It has been a busy year for Negga. In February she attended the Academy Awards, a best actress nominee for her role in the civil rights drama Loving. Even though she was up against a formidable roster (Emma Stone, Natalie Portman), there was reasonable hope of victory. “The stabbing simplicity of Negga’s acting is breathtaking,” Rolling Stone film critic Peter Travers wrote of her portrayal of Mildred Loving, one half of a mixed-race couple whose marriage was the center of a landmark Supreme Court ruling in the 1960s.
The Oscar went to Stone for La La Land, but the evening saw the relatively unknown Negga, dressed in custom Valentino, catapulted into film and fashion world stardom—a status that seems to have only been magnified by recent red carpet appearances, especially at this year’s Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Gala.
Negga was born in Ethiopia’s capital city, Addis Ababa, in 1982 to a white Irish mother and a black Ethiopian father. In the mid-’80s, during a period of growing political instability, there was “a window during which the educated people began to leave,” she says. “But not my father.”
Instead Ruth and her mother moved to Ireland, and her father, a surgeon, stayed behind. By the time he tried to leave, “the window had closed.” He died when she was seven. “Murdered in a car crash,” she says. “I mean killed in an accident.” They were notified by letter. “It’s not a taboo subject,” she says. “My mom talks about my dad a lot. It’s awful to not know someone who you look like. It’s tragic, but that’s life, isn’t it?”
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