One film has stood as the film to beat at this year Academy awards. Since 12 Years A Slave premiered at the Telluride Film Festival in August, the brutal depiction of slavery in America has received near universal praise. The Steve McQueen directed film has been hailed one of, if not the most definitive depiction of slavery to ever grace the cinema. 12 Years A Slave has been the Academy awards heavy favorite for best picture since its debut for good reason.
In 1841, Solomon Northup lives with his family as a free black man in Saratoga, New York. He supports his wife and two children as a violinist. One day when Solomon is out for what he believes to be a simple out of town gig, he is drugged and sold into slavery in the deep south. Solomon is given the name Platt and serves his initial master with only the upmost respect and care. He figures that cooperation is the only way to survive. Solomon finds himself as an outcast amongst the other slaves due to his intelligence and the target of malicious behaviour from his master’s associates. As a slave, Nothrup is at the mercy of his environment. He finds that cooperation gets him nowhere and sometimes into even further trouble. Solomon is sold to an owner that gives him the promise of pain and suffering at his instant dissatisfaction. Solomon watches others around him suffer through much more dire circumstances than his own, slaves who will do absolutely anything to get themselves out, he cannot help but wonder if he’ll ever see his wife and two children again.
12 Years A Slave has been the heavy favorite before the film had even received a single nomination for any Academy awards. The drama has been nominated for nine Academy awards including best picture, and director. The nomination is the first of McQueen’s career as he continues to become one of the most respected filmmakers working. Chiwetel Ejiofer, who plays Solomon Northup, has been nominated for the best actor prize while his co-star Lupita Nyong’o was nominated for her part as Patsy, the slave stuck as the fruit of her master’s lustful eye. Lupita Nyong’o was relatively unknown prior to her appearance but she very nearly steals the picture from under the veteran actors. The only glaring exception from 12 Years A Slave list of Academy award nominations is for Sean Bobbitt’s beautiful cinematography work on the film. While the film grabbed nods for editing, costume design, production design and best adapted screenplay, Bobbitt’s incredible contribution to the film gave the audience the sensation of witnessing these horrible atrocities right along side Solomon. While Gravity remains the frontrunner for the category, Bobbitt’s exclusion is puzzling. 12 Years A Slave has won several critics circle awards and most recently took home the BAFTA for best film of the year. For the past five years, the winner of the best picture at the BAFTAs also won the Academy award.
12 Years A Slave is a tragic tale of humanity at its worst yet it also reinstates the strength of the human spirit. Despite insurmountable odds, Solomon Northup preserved through the hatred and the pain and the sorrow in order to see his family once again. The heavy favorite to be taking home the best picture prize at the 86th Academy Awards, Steve McQueen’s 12 Years A Slave reminds audiences everywhere the power and importance of cinema. The Academy Awards will air live on March 2nd from the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood.
By Benjamin Murray