The "12 Years a Slave" actress looked dazed as she stood after her name was called, hugging director Steve McQueen and co-star Chiwetel Ejiofor before clutching her heart and ascending the stage.
Presenter Christoph Waltz handed her the gold statuette, and she proceeded to tearfully say, of her role as beleaguered young slave Patsey in the big-screen adaptation of Solomon Northup's memoir, "It doesn't escape me for one moment that so much joy in my life is thanks to so much pain in someone else's, and so I want to salute the spirit of Patsey for her guidance, and to Solomon [Northup]: thank you for telling her story and your own."
She went on to thank McQueen for his guidance, saying her time with him "has been the joy of my life." Nyong'o thanked Ejiofor (who played Northup) for his "fearlessness" and called Michael Fassbender (who plays Patsey's slave owner Edwin Epps) her "rock." She also gave a shout-out to her date, brother Junior, saying, "You are my best friend."
She finished her touching speech with the promise, "Every time I look down at this golden statue, may it remind me and every little child that no matter where you're from, your dreams are valid."
The two front-runners for the Supporting Actress statuette (which has been fodder for much debate) were Jennifer Lawrence, who plays fast-talking, fiery Rosalyn Rosenfeld in director David O. Russell's "American Hustle" and Nyong'o, for her absolutely devastating and unforgettable performance as Patsey.
Had Lawrence won, the 23-year-old would have been the youngest actress to nab back-to-back Oscars (she earned Best Performance by an Actress in a Lead Role last year for her turn in Russell's "Silver Linings Playbook").
Nyong'o turned 31 yesterday, and she celebrated with an Independent Spirit Award win for Best Supporting Female. "12 Years a Slave" is the actress' first feature film role, and it's skyrocketed her to the A-list. Prior to her Spirit Awards win, she received the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role. But she was bested by Lawrence in Supporting Actress categories at both the Golden Globes and the BAFTAs, a major factor in tightening the race between the two actresses and keeping experts guessing until the moment the envelope was opened.
Other nominees in the category included Sally Hawkins (for "Blue Jasmine"), Julia Roberts (for "August: Osage County") and June Squibb (for "Nebraska").