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Historic night at Oscars with trio of big victories

Yawu Miller | 3/5/2014, 10:48 a.m.
The 2014 Oscars marked a few rare wins for blacks in the white-dominated world of the Academy Awards: Best Picture ...
Lupita Nyong’o (center) flanked by Chiwetel Ejiofor (l) and Steve McQueen (r) at European Premiere. Nyong’o won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress and McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave” won the Oscar for Best Picture.

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Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave,” starring Chiwetel Ejiofor (r) and Michael Fassbender (l), became the first film directed by a black man to win the Best Picture Oscar.

The film “12 Years a Slave,” director Steve McQueen’s riveting re-telling of the 19th century abduction and liberation of a free black man, has made Hollywood history as the first film directed by a black man to win an Academy Award.

The awards ceremony marked a few rare wins for blacks in the white-dominated world of the Academy Awards: Best Picture for the film, Best Supporting Actress for Lupita Nyong’o, and Best Adapted Screenplay for writer John Ridley.

Nyong’o is the sixth black actress in the 86 years of the awards to win an award and Ridley is the second-ever African American to win best screenwriter.

While a number of blacks have been nominated for Best Actor in a leading role only four have won; Sidney Poitier in “Lillies of the Field” (1963), Denzell Washington in “Training Day” (2001), Jamie Foxx in “Ray” (2004) and Forest Whitaker in “The Last King of Scotland” (2006). Halle Berry is the sole black woman to win Best Actress for her performance in “Monster’s Ball” (2001).

McQueen dedicated his award to the victims of modern-day slavery. “Everyone deserves not just to survive, but to live,” he said in his acceptance speech. “This is the most important legacy of Solomon Northup. I dedicate this award to all the people who have endured slavery, and the 21 million people who still suffer slavery today.”

Nyong’o’s speech was perhaps the most moving of the night:

“Thank you to the Academy for this incredible recognition. 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. And for Solomon, thank you for telling her story and your own.

“Steve McQueen, you charge everything you fashion with a breath of your own spirit. Thank you so much for putting me in this position. It’s been the joy of my life. I’m certain that the dead are standing about you and watching and they are grateful and so am I.

“Chiwetel, thank you for your fearlessness and how deeply you went into Solomon, telling Solomon’s story. Michael Fassbender, thank you so much. You were my rock. Alfre and Sarah, it was a thrill to work with you. Joe Walker, the invisible performer in the editing room — thank you. Sean Bobbitt, Kalaadevi, Adruitha, Patty Norris, thank you, thank you, thank you — I could not be here without your work.

“I want to thank my family, for your training and the Yale School of Drama as well, for your training. My friends the Wilsons, this one’s for you. My brother Junior sitting by my side, thank you so much, you’re my best friend and then my other best friend, my chosen family.

“When I look down at this golden statue, may it remind me and every little child that no matter where you’re from, your dreams are valid. Thank you.”

While “12 Years a Slave” won the night’s biggest award, “Gravity,” a sci-fi film, won big with seven awards, including Alfonso Cuaron’s for Best Director.