In a triumph long deferred, “12 Years a Slave” won the best picture Oscar at the 86th Academy Awards on Sunday night, the first time Hollywood conferred its top honor to the work of a black director.
“I’d like to thank this amazing story,” said Steve McQueen, the British-born filmmaker who grasped a prize that has eluded African-American directors and their movies since the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gave its first Oscars in 1929.
“Everyone deserves not just to survive, but to live,” said Mr. McQueen, who dedicated the film to those who had endured slavery, both in the past and in the present.
Only minutes before, Mr. McQueen had been overlooked for the directing award, which went to Alfonso Cuarón for “Gravity,” a 3-D blockbuster whose story of survival in space had been locked with Mr. McQueen’s film and David O. Russell’s “American Hustle” in a ferocious
In the end, Fox Searchlight, which distributed “12 Years a Slave,” about a 19th-century man, Solomon Northup, who was kidnapped into slavery, carried the day with the help of an advertising slogan that reminded Oscar voters of their chance to make history. “It’s time,” said the ads.
“12 Years a Slave” won only three awards, including best supporting actress and best adapted screenplay, while “Gravity” won seven, the most of any film.
Diversity was a leading motif for ceremony that was hosted by Ellen DeGeneres, a happy-go-lucky lesbian who spent most of the evening in a tuxedo, and which also honored Jared Leto as best supporting actor for his role as a transgender AIDS patient in “Dallas Buyers Club.”
The best actress award went to Cate Blanchett for “Blue Jasmine,” despite a late-season challenge by Dylan Farrow, who publicly wrote that its director Woody Allen and his films should be shunned because he had, by her account, sexually molested her as a child. Mr. Allen, her adoptive father, has strongly challenged the charge.
“Thank you so much, Woody, for casting me,” said Ms. Blanchett, who never mentioned the blowup, but made a point of thanking Mr. Allen for using “Blue Jasmine” to tell a woman’s story.
Jennifer Lawrence followed minutes later to present the best actor award to Matthew McConaughey for “Dallas Buyers Club.” “Why are you laughing?” Ms. Lawrence challenged the audience, which has come to expect a trip, fall or charming faux pas every time she takes the stage.
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