‘12 Years A Slave’ could be a game-changer at these Academy Awards.
Should we do the “black” thing? The “right” thing? This year, the Oscar’s Best Picture race has been veering steadily towards a film that does nothing new but will most likely hit the top target if the Academy brings in affirmative action of its own. The film, 12 Years A Slave, is exactly what the title suggests: the experience of a sold-into-slavery human being, who is humiliated and tortured for those 12 long years, being forced to live as chattel, even when he is born free.
It may be travelled territory, but what Steve McQueen’s film represents is worthy of being awarded. It is based on a book which tells the moving story of Solomon Northup, played brilliantly by Chiwetel Ejiofor, up for Best Actor. Lupita Nyong’o, who plays the part of a female slave and is shortlisted for Best Supporting Actress, is a heartbreaker. The film has heaved the issue of slavery into the mainstream cauldron — the safe place where white women and men rule, and the one ring that binds them is in the hands of predominantly middle-aged white men, the people who vote for the Academy Awards.
If it wins Best Picture, it will, despite all the cynicism that is floating around, be a game-changer. McQueen will be the first black director with a Best Picture win. And if Ejiofor and Nyong’o get their hands on the trophies, it will be the biggest photo-op in the history of the Oscars. It will also be the next level in the slow stutter of acceptance of people of colour in an industry which, like all mainstream film industries around the globe, is petrified of rocking the boat. Because black, you know, doesn’t sell.
The biggest acting bets are not on either of the 12 Years A Slave leads, but even if it takes away Best Picture, it will be more than just tokenism. It will be the film that broke the mould, and it will tilt the balance a little more towards racial diversity in a nation that has talked so much about it, but has had such difficulty in putting blacks, browns and other “un-American” hues at the heart of its entertainment industries.
The film that is giving 12 Years A Slave the toughest fight takes place hundreds of miles away from planet Earth. Gravity flings Sandra Bullock and George Clooney into outer space, and makes us float with them as they spiral about, trying to find their way back home. Alfonso Cuaron, the continued…