Best Picture Oscar for 12 Years a Slave marks milestone in Hollywood history

Best picture Oscar is first for a black director and marks a major milestone in Hollywood history

PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 March, 2014, 8:52pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 04 March, 2014, 7:40am

Hollywood named the brutal, unshrinking historical drama 12 Years a Slave best picture at the 86th annual Academy Awards.

Steve McQueen's epic based on Solomon Northup's 1853 memoir has been hailed as a landmark corrective to the movie industry's long omission of slavery stories, after years of whiter tales like 1940 best picture winner Gone With the Wind.

The British director dedicated the honour to those past sufferers of slavery and "the 21 million who still endure slavery today".

"Everyone deserves not just to survive, but to live. This is the most important legacy of Solomon Northup," McQueen said, before bouncing into the arms of his cast.

A year after celebrating Ben Affleck's Argo over Steven Spielberg's Lincoln, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences opted this time for stark realism over more plainly entertaining candidates like the 3D space marvel Gravity and the 1970s caper American Hustle.

I want to salute the spirit of Patsey for her guidance
Lupita Nyong'o, best supporting actress for 12 Years a Slave

Those two films came in as the leading nominee getters. David Russell's American Hustle went home empty-handed, but Gravity triumphed as the night's top award-winner.

Cleaning up in technical categories including cinematography and visual effects, it earned seven Oscars including best director for Alfonso Cuaron. The Mexican filmmaker is the category's first Latino winner.

"It was a transformative experience," said Cuaron, who spent about five years making the film and developing its visual effects.

"For a lot of people, that transformation was wisdom. For me, it was the colour of my hair."

To his star Sandra Bullock, the sole person on screen for much of the lost-in-space drama, he said: "Sandra, you are Gravity."

But history belonged to 12 Years a Slave, a modestly budgeted drama produced by Brad Pitt's production company, Plan B, that has taken US$50 million worldwide - a far cry from the US$700 million Gravity has hauled in.

It marks the first time a film directed by a black filmmaker has won best picture.

Host Ellen DeGeneres, in a nimble second stint that seemed designed to be an antidote to the crude humour of Seth MacFarlane last year, summarised 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."

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 producer Harvey Weinstein to pitch in.

But in celebrating a movie year generally acclaimed as an exceptional 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.

McConaughey's award capped a startling career turnaround, a conscious redirection by the actor to move away from the romantic comedies he regularly starred in, and take on more challenging roles.

He said he is always chasing a better version of himself, which he calls his "hero". He told the audience: "Every day, every week, every month of my life, my hero's always 10 years away."

Leto passed around his Oscar to members of the press backstage, urging them to "fondle" it.

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". She said to hearty applause: "The world is round, people!"

Lupita Nyong'o won best supporting actress for her indelible impression as the tortured Patsey in 12 Years a Slave. It was the 31-year-old's feature film debut.

"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 Patsey for her guidance," said Nyong'o.

She also thanked director McQueen, telling him: "I'm certain the dead are standing about you, and they are watching and they are grateful. And so am I."



  • At 23, Jennifer Lawrence, nominated for the best supporting actress Oscar for American Hustle, became the youngest actress to score three nominations (after Winter’s Bone in 2011 and Silver Linings Playbook last year, for which she won best actress). The previous youngest was Teresa Wright, who was 24 when she won her third nod in 1942. 
  • Last year, Silver Linings Playbook by director David Russell was the first film since Warren Beatty's Reds in 1981 to be nominated for best picture, best director, best screenplay and the four acting categories. Russell achieved the same feat this year with American Hustle - it failed to win one.
  • Nominated for best picture for both American Hustle and Her, Megan Ellison is the fourth producer, and the first woman, to have secured two nominations in the same year in this category, after Francis Ford Coppola, Fred Roos and Scott Rudin.
  • Nominated for best original score for The Book Thief, John Williams brought his total number of nominations to 49. Only Walt Disney has had more, at 59. Woody Allen, nominated for best original screenplay for Blue Jasmine, is the second-most-nominated living artist, with 24 so far.
  • Meryl Streep, up for best actress for August: Osage County, extended her own record as the most-nominated actor or actress, with 18 nods.
  • The Missing Picture, Cambodia's candidate for foreign-language Oscar, is only the second documentary nominated in this category. The first was Israel's Waltz with Bashir in 2008.



Shimmering metallics, bold jewel tones and newcomer Lupita Nyong'o led the style on the Oscars red carpet, as actresses shunned runway trends to showcase colours and silhouettes inspired by Hollywood's golden age. Amy Adams, nominee for best actress, wore a Gucci Premiere couture strapless gown in midnight blue, while Angelina Jolie opted for a grey sequined gown by Lebanese designer Elie Saab. But all eyes were on Nyong'o. The 12 Years a Slave star from Kenya wore a custom halter-neck pastel blue Prada gown which she helped to design, saying it was inspired by champagne bubbles and a colour that reminded her of Nairobi. Elsewhere, pale golds, grey and cream gowns added a touch of dazzle to the red carpet, with best actress Cate Blanchett leading the way in a blush gold embellished Armani Prive dress. Naomi Watts wore a beaded white form-fitting Calvin Klein gown, while Jennifer Garner picked a pale silver beaded flapper-style Oscar de la Renta dress. Singer Lady Gaga also rocked the trend in cream detailed Versace accessorised with a scarf around her neck, in a throwback to Hollywood's golden age. Reuters