“Slave” Takes Oscars

March 4, 2014

It wasn’t a vision, but in my “Nickell-odeon review” of 12 Years a Slave (Nov. 19) I did foresee Academy Awards in that film’s future.

Specifically, I recommended Chiwetel Ejiofor for an Oscar for his “stunning portrayal” of Solomon Northup, the real-life, free-black musician of Sarasota Springs, New York, who in 1841, was abducted and sold as a slave. I also thought an Oscar was due Lupita Nyong’o for her equally stunning portrayal of the remarkable, brutalized slave Patsey.

And by giving the movie itself my highest rating, I obviously thought it should be a contender for Best Picture. I did not refer to other potential Oscars except to observe (in an implicit nod to the category of Adapted Screenplay) that the movie’s adaptation from Northrup’s 1853 slave narrative (which I read in order to judge this point) was essentially faithful to it.

Reviewers were mixed in their picks for Best Picture—one in my local newspaper lauding Inside Llewyn Davis (actually a boring tale about a folksinger who was not Bob Dylan), while giving 12 Years a Slave just three and a half stars (out of four). The consensus seemed to place Slave neck-and-neck with American Hustle (the Abscam story), although some held out for Gravity (a space drama starring Sandra Bullock). On Oscar night (March 2), host Ellen DeGeneres quipped in her opening monologue: “Possibility No. 1: 12 Years a Slave wins best picture. Possibility No. 2: You’re all racists.”

The envelope please. Slave captured Best Picture. Nyong’o—an obvious audience favorite—won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Ejiofor lost out to Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club) for Best Actor, but Slave racked up an additional success, Best Adapted Screenplay. (As well, Steve McQueen was nominated for Best Director, and Michael Fassbender, who played the brutal slave overlord, was nominated for Best Supporting Actor. Slave also received Oscar nominations for Costume Design, Production Design, and Film Editing.)

The film and its actors and other creators well deserved their accolades. Ultimately, 12 Years a Slave will stand as a monument to one man’s overwhelming suffering, out of which he turned loss into triumph and a powerful gift to the future. It is ennobling to the human spirit.