David Oyetokunbo Oyelowo was born on the 1st of April 1976 in Oxford, England to Nigerian parents of Yoruba ethnicity. He was raised as a Baptist. He grew up in Tooting Bec until he was six, when his family moved to Lagos, Nigeria, where his father Stephen worked for the national airline and mother for a railway company. David attended a “‘military-style’ boarding school’. They returned to London when Oyelowo was fourteen, settling in Islington.
While enrolled in theatre studies at City and Islington College, his teacher suggested that he become an actor. Oyelowo enrolled for a year in an art foundation course, at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA). He finished his three-year training in 1998. He also spent time with the National Youth Theatre.
He began his stage career in 1999 when he was offered a season with the Royal Shakespeare Company. He is however best known for his next stage performance as King Henry VI in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s 2001 productions of Shakespeare’s trilogy of plays about the king as a part of its season This England: The Histories. Oyelowo was the first black actor to play an English king in a major production of Shakespeare, and although this casting choice was initially criticised by some in the media, Oyelowo’s performance was critically acclaimed and later won the 2001 Ian Charleson Award for best performance by an actor under 30 in a classical play.
In 2012, Oyelowo appeared in Middle of Nowhere. That same year Oyelowo appeared in The Paperboy, which competed for the Palme d’Or at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. He worked with his Middle of Nowhere director Ava DuVernay again for Selma (2014), a biographical drama film playing civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr. The film was based on the 1965 Selma to Montgomery voting rights marches. For his portrayal of Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma, Oyelowo received in 2014 the Critic’s Choice Award for Best Actor and the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture. He received his first Golden Globe Award nomination for Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama.
Oyelowo was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2016 New Year Honours for services to drama.
Oyelowo, a devout Christian, is married to actress Jessica Oyelowo. They have four children and live in Los Angeles.