12 Years a Slave defeated Gravity to make Oscar history as the first film made by a black director to win Best Picture in the the 86 years that the Academy Awards have existed. Incredibly, the Oscar favorite, Alfonso Cuaron’s 3D space drama Gravity lost out on the evening’s biggest award even though it did sweep a total of 7 awards by the ceremony’s end.
Steve McQueen’s pre Civil War film dealing with slavery picked up two more Oscars, one of which was for newcomer Lupita Nyong’o’s performance netting her the best supporting actress gong. McQueen’s film also won for best adapted screenplay. The film was based on the 1853 memoirs of Solomon Northup a free man who was kidnapped in 1841 then sold and forced into slavery in the state of Louisiana where he worked for twelve years on plantations before regaining his freedom.
During his acceptance speech McQueen said that Northup’s legacy was that “everyone deserves” the same right to not just survive but to live. The Kenyan actress Nyong’o with her acceptance speech was a highlight of the evening. The actress was in tears as she told the audience that it did not escape her for a moment that her winning the Oscar was based on someone else’s pain and she saluted her character Patsey for “her guidance.”
While 12 Years a Slave made Oscar history by defeating Gravity for Best Picture, Alonso Cuaron did get the Best Director award as well as six others including Oscars for editing and visual effects. McQueen’s film did not enjoy the same kind of box office success as Cuaron’s, Gravity pulled in well over $700 million compared to 12 Years a Slave with its $140 million take. The slavery film did, besides becoming the first film directed by a black man to win the best picture gong, overcome the negative publicity that said it was too difficult to watch.
Neither film took any gongs for best actor or supporting actor, that privilege went to the smaller budgeted biographical film Dallas Buyers Club. The two main protagonists in the film, Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto – who ended a five year hiatus sto co-star in the film – won best actor and best supporting actor respectively. Both men underwent dramatic weight loss for their roles, McConaughey as Homophobe Ron Woodroof, who contacts AIDS annd Leto as the transgender Rayon.
Sandra Bullock, who starred in Gravity, as the endangered female astronaut who must get back to earth seemed to be the odds on favorite to win best actress for her performance wound up losing out to Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine and Cate Blanchett. Before the Oscars ceremony, it was rumored that the Australian actress would miss her chance at winning any type of award after her outspoken support for director Allen. The actress, who took the little gold statuette from previous winners Amy Adams, Judi Dench and Meryl Streep, also ironically Sandra Bullock, said during her acceptance speech that winning meant a great deal in a year with so many “extraordinary” performances by her peers.
Out of all the films up for awards the only real loser was American Hustle which started out the evening with a total of 10 nominations and ended it with no wins. Host Ellen DeGeneres did a wonderfully non-controversial hosting job by using her trademark “deadpan delivery” as one reviewer put it. The attendees were probably glad that Seth MacFarlane was nowhere to be seen.
Easily the most impressive, and history making, event of the evening was 12 Years a Slave defeating the odds on favorite Gravity to win the Best Picture Oscar. While it did not have the impressive box office of Cuaron’s film, it did have a relevant message. One that both Steve McQueen and Brad Pitt, as producer, were determined to point out. The World War Z star said backstage that the film was meant to be a gentle reminder that slavery was not just historical but also current and that everyone was equal.
By Michael Smith