LOS ANGELES (AP) — Perhaps atoning for past sins, Hollywood named the brutal, unshrinking historical drama 12 Years a Slave best picture at the 86th annual Academy Awards.
Steve McQueen’s slavery odyssey, based on Solomon Northup’s 1853 memoir, has been hailed as a landmark corrective to the movie industry’s virtual blindness to slavery, instead creating whiter tales like 1940 best-picture winner Gone With the Wind. 12 Years a Slave is the first best-picture winner directed by a black filmmaker.
“Everyone deserves not just to survive, but to live,” said McQueen, who dedicated the honor to those, past and present, who have endured slavery. “This is the most important legacy of Solomon Northup.”
The normally reserved McQueen promptly bounced up and down on stage, later matter-of-factly explaining his joy physically took over: “So, Van Halen. Jump.”
History belonged to 12 Years a Slave, a modestly budgeted drama produced by Brad Pitt’s production company, Plan B that has made $50 million worldwide.
Ellen DeGeneres summarized the academy’s options in her opening monologue: “Possibility number one: 12 Years a Slave wins best picture. Possibility number two: You’re all racists.”
Draped in Nairobi blue, Lupita Nyong’o — the Cinderella of the awards season — won best supporting actress for her indelible impression as the tortured slave Patsey. It’s the feature film debut for the 31-year-old actress.
“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,” said Nyong’o. She also thanked director McQueen: “I’m certain that the dead are standing about you and they are watching and they are grateful, and so am I.”
John Ridley won best adapted screenplay for 12 Years a Slave, shifting praise to Northup: “Those are his words. That is his life.”
Associated Press writers Jake Coyle, Anthony McCartney, Lynn Elber, Ryan Nakashima, Andrew Dalton, Nekesa Mumbi Moody and E.J.Tamara contributed to this report.