At the 86th Academy Awards, held on March 2, host Ellen DeGeneres closed her opening monologue with a salty take on
the two ways the night could end: “Either ‘12 Years a Slave’ wins best
picture, or you are all racists!”
While perhaps not that black and-white, the year 2013 provided the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) with
the opportunity to, for the first time, present the Best Picture award to a film directed by a black person, featuring a predominately
black cast. Neither had ever been accomplished.
Will Smith, who presented the big award, smiled ever so slightly as he opened the envelope and read the winner to himself.
The crowd began to cheer, and audiences everywhere knew the time had finally come: “12 Years a
Slave” won Best Picture.
Director Steve McQueen literally jumped for joy on the stage as he celebrated the landmark victory with his cast and crew.
McQueen lost the directing award to Alfonso Cuarón (“Gravity”), who became the first
Latino to ever win the directing award. Cuarón also won for editing his film, which took a leading seven Oscars home.
As for the acting awards, contenders that had been out front for months prevailed: in the leading categories, Cate Blanchett
(“Blue Jasmine”) and Matthew McConaughey (“Dallas Buyers Club”), and for supporting roles,
Jared Leto (“Dallas Buyers Club”) and Lupita Nyong’o (“12 Years a Slave”).
The ceremony itself ran 30 minutes long and felt awkward and stiff – it was not the best night
for DeGeneres. Predictability and logistical problems aside, the 86th Oscars will be remembered as the
time that a long-overdue leap was taken – when a black director’s vision was embraced as the Best
Picture of the year, and the time that an artistic representation of the black experience was at last recognized by film’s highest honor.