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.”
The 3D space marvel Gravity and the starry 1970s caper American Hustle came in as the leading nominee getters. David O. Russell’s American Hustle went home empty-handed, but Gravity triumphed as the night’s top award-winner. Cleaning up in technical categories like cinematography and visual effects, it earned seven Oscars, including best director for Alfonso Cuaron. The Mexican filmmaker is the category’s first Latino winner.
However, history belonged to 12 Years a Slave, a modestly budgeted drama produced by Brad Pitt’s production company, Plan B, that has made US$50 million worldwide — a far cry from the more than US$700 million Gravity has hauled in.
Ellen DeGeneres, in a nimble second stint as host that seemed designed as an antidote to the crude humor of Seth MacFarlane last year, summarized the academy’s options in her opening monologue: “Possibility No. 1: 12 Years a Slave wins best picture. Possibility No. 2: You’re all racists.”
DeGeneres presided over a smooth if safe ceremony, punctuated by politics, pizza and photo-bombing. Freely circulating in the crowd, she had pizza delivered, appealing to Harvey Weinstein to pitch in, and gathered stars to snap a selfie she hoped would be a record-setter on Twitter. (It was: Long before midnight, the photograph had been retweeted more than 2 million times and momentarily crashed Twitter.)
However, in celebrating a movie year roundly considered an exceptionally deep one, the Oscars fittingly spread the awards around. The starved stars of the Texas AIDS drama Dallas Buyers Club were feted: Matthew McConaughey for best actor and Jared Leto for best supporting actor.
Leto passed around his Oscar to members of the press backstage, urging them to “fondle” it.
The long-haired actor, who has devoted himself in recent years to his rock band 30 Seconds to Mars, gravely vowed: “I will revel tonight.”
Cate Blanchett took best actress for her fallen socialite in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine, her second Oscar.
Accepting the award, she challenged Hollywood not to think of films starring women as “niche experiences.”
“The world is round, people,” she said to hearty applause.
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 Patsy. It is 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,” Nyong’o said.