Possibility number one, ’12 Years a Slave’ wins Best Picture. Possibility number two, you’re all racists,” said Oscar host Ellen DeGeneres, returning after seven years, as she ended her opening monologue. Well the Academy’s 6000 voters went with possibility number one.
It was no coincidence that Academy Awards producers Neil Meron and Craig Zadan booked a record ten black presenters, from Tyler Perry and Sidney Poitier to Samuel L. Jackson and Kerry Washington, a welcome change that one day will hopefully not be worthy of note. Will Smith presented Best Picture, while fragile Poitier leaned on Best Director co-presenter Angelina Jolie.
[Sidebar: Is it a coincidence that the admittedly quite lovely Lupita Nyong’o is from Kenya? Is any of this timing related to Michelle Obama appearing by surprise last year? Seventy five years ago, the Best Supporting Actress was from England—and Obama hates England….and the memory of that movie and all it stood for (GWTW]
“12 Years a Slave” producer Brad Pitt thanked director Steve McQueen, the first black producer to win the Best Picture award, for bringing the movie together. “Without Brad Pitt this movie would not have been made,” McQueen responded. It did take a village to make this film, which was not supported by a studio, but by a hodgepodge of backers: New Regency, Bill Pohlad, Plan B, and Film Four, before it was picked up by distributor Fox Searchlight, who fought a long and hard awards campaign, stressing the message, “it’s time.” McQueen added, “I dedicate this award to all the people who have endured slavery and the 21 million people who still suffer it today.”
“I think it’s important, the film deals with our history,” said Pitt backstage, “so that we can understand who we were so we can better understand who we are now, why we’re having the problems we’re having and who we’re going to be. At the end of the day I hope this film remains a gentle reminder that we’re all equal, we want the same dignity and opportunity for ourselves and out family. Another’s freedom is every bit as important as our own. That’s everything.”
[Sidebar: Ok, Brad, WHO exactly ARE we going to be? Oh, I get it, you mean we’re all going to be a Nation of Slaves????]
“It’s a mark of development,” said McQueen, “how we see that particular time in history, the background characters are in the foreground, their lives are being recognized, more than they ever have been before. People are ready for this narrative. It was quite painful. They want to embrace their history.”
“12 Years a Slave” took its first award in the most competitive race of the night outside of Best Picture, supporting actress. “12 Years a Slave” discovery Lupita Nyong’o, a Nigerian Yale Drama School grad, beat out “American Hustle” star Jennifer Lawrence. Nyong’o had celebrated her 31st birthday Saturday, the day she accepted her Indie Spirit award, and won over Academy voters’ hearts not only by playing slave Patsey but by donning one stunning red carpet outfit after another. “It doesn’t escape me that so much joy in my life came from so much pain in someone else’s,” she said accepting her award. “So this is for Patsey. This has been the joy of my life.”
Backstage Nyong’o said, “I’m a little dazed, I can’t believe this in my hands, this is real life, I’m really overwhelmed. I feel that Steve McQueen has really honored a people who really have been unsung for a long time through doing this film. I feel their spirits have been honored.”
“What I have learned,” she continued, “is that I don’t have to be anyone else, that myself is good enough. When I am true to myself I can avail myself of extraordinary things like this that I didn’t think was necessarily possible, but I didn’t cancel it out. You have to allow the impossible to be possible… I am so happy to be holding this golden man.”
Nyong’o credited her parents for giving her a level head, from her famous diplomat father to her pioneer mother. “
[Note from Wikipedia: Peter Anyang’ Nyong’o, born 10 October 1945, same birthday as my Undergraduate Advisor E. Wyllys Andrews V, albeit 2 years younger, is a Kenyan politician. He is the Secretary-General of the Orange Democratic Movement and was elected to the National Assembly of Kenya in the December 2007 parliamentary election, representing the Kisumu Rural Constituency.]
At the end of the day it is my deeds that are more important than my fame. I feel like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.”
John Ridley, the second black screenwriter to win the adapted screenplay Oscar (“Precious” writer Geoffrey Fletcher was the first), accepted the second Oscar of the night for “12 Years a Slave,” saying, “all the praise goes to Solomon Northup. They were his words.” Solomon Northup’s public domain memoir is now on the bestseller list and the film and the book are being widely added to school curricula around the country. Ridley hoped that the film’s message was not buried in the past.