African British director Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave has won the Academy Award for ‘best picture,’ making history as the first movie from a Black director to win the film industry’s highest honor in 86 years of the Oscars.
12 Years a Slave is the story of a pre-Civil War free African American musician, tricked and sold into slavery. Solomon Northup struggles underneath incomprehensible cruelty on various plantations in Louisiana for 12 years, trying to regain his freedom and make his way back to his wife and children in the North.
12 Years a Slave is a ‘no-holds-barred,’ gritty, true story based on Northup’s book. The film has been referred to by many news commentators and critics as being so realistic, “it’s difficult to watch.”
McQueen’s unflinching portrayal of slavery won two other Oscars, including ‘best supporting actress’ for Kenyan newcomer Lupita Nyong’o and ‘best adapted screenplay’ based on the memoir of Solom.
“Everyone deserves not just to survive but to live. This is the most important legacy of Solomon Northup,” said McQueen in his acceptance speech.
12 Years a Slave prevailed over space thriller Gravity from Mexican filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron’, which nevertheless racked up the most Oscars of the night with seven, including the ‘best director’ honor for Cuaron’, a first for a Latin American director.
In accepting the first award of the night for 12 Years a Slave, Nyong’o, 31, paid homage to her character, who picked more cotton than anyone else but suffered at the hands of her besotted yet evil master.
“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 Patsy, for her guidance,” a tearful Nyong’o told the audience. Nyong’o received her college education at Yale University and acknowledged the Yale Drama Dept. in her acceptance speech.
The win gave both actor Brad Pitt, who produced it, and director Steve McQueen their first Oscars.
“I dedicate this award to all the people who have endured slavery, and the 21 million who still suffer slavery today,” said McQueen.
“We just hope this film remains a gentle reminder that we are all equal,” said Pitt backstage.
12 Years a Slave, from studio Fox Searchlight, compelled Oscar voters to go see the film with the ad ‘It’s Time,’ fearing that they might skip it and throw their weight behind Gravity. It has earned nearly $140 million at the worldwide box office, a fraction of the $700 million for Gravity.
Matthew McConaughey, in a validation of a remarkable career turnaround, won ‘best actor’ for Dallas Buyer’s Club. He portrayed real life rodeo star, Ron Woodroof, a homophobe turned AIDS victim turned treatment crusader—a role for which he lost 50 pounds.
His co-star, Jared Leto, won ‘best supporting actor’ for his role as Woodroof’s unlikely business sidekick, the transgender woman Rayon, for which he also slimmed down drastically.
All in all, Dallas Buyer’s Club won three awards, including ‘best makeup and hairstyling.’
Australia’s Cate Blanchett won the ‘best actress’ Oscar for her acclaimed role as the socialite unhinged by her husband’s financial crimes in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine.
Other notable Oscar moments included Darlene Love earning a standing ovation after belting out a ‘thank you’ song as an acceptance speech for 20 Feet From Stardom, about the unsung achievements of backup singers, which nabbed ‘best documentary feature.’
Three films were considered frontrunners at the 86th Academy Awards, with Gravity and American Hustle earning the most nominations with 10 each, while 12 Years a Slave came in a close second with nine nods. In the end, two walked away winners: Gravity technically coming out on top with seven awards (five of those being technical honors, including ‘best cinematography’ and ‘best visual effects’), and 12 Years a Slave taking three, including the top trophy of the night for ‘best picture.’ American Hustle, a comedy-drama based on a true 1970s story of political corruption, was completely shut out.