’12 Years A Slave’ Wins Best Picture, As Well It Should Have

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"’12 Years A Slave’ Wins Best Picture, As Well It Should Have"

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'12 Years A Slave' Wins Best Picture, As Well It Should Have

It would have been a remarkable historical hand-off to see Sidney Poitier present Steve McQueen with the Best Director Oscar for his work on 12 Years A Slave, to watch the actor who embodied black professionalism and dignity introduce a director who’s made a movie that is a landmark in black film in part for its messy, ugly, selfish humanity. But as a split goes, I’ll take the enshrining of 12 Years A Slave as a Best Picture, and as a Best Picture that truly deserves the title.

It’s easy to just talk about the importance of a movie like 12 Years A Slave on the grounds of its ideas, which are certainly significant. But the discussion of that significance can minimize the conversation about the movie as an artistic achievement, a bar not all socially and politically important films meet. The performances in 12 Years A Slave are exceptionally deep: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lupita Nyong’o, Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Fassbender, Sarah Paulson, Paul Dano, and Alfre Woodard are all tremendous, and tremendously human. The film’s lingering perspective on the Southern landscape emphasize Solmon’s physical isolation, not just from his family, but from any civilization that might have revolted at his treatment. The film’s use of music and preaching make for a richer cultural portrait of life in the slaveholding South. And the script by John Ridley is sharp and perceptive not just about blackness, but about whiteness, and about masculinity and femininity.

Sometimes, a silly system produces a great result.

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