By Julissa Catalan
Winners at Sunday night’s 86th Academy Awards appeared to know they were in the process of making history, and they also seemed to know these wins were bigger than themselves, each acknowledging the real-life characters and struggles they portrayed as personal inspiration.
Lupita Nyong’o, this year’s winner for Best Supporting Actress for 12 Years a Slave, is only the sixth Black woman to win in this category. She follows Hattie McDaniel (Gone with the Wind), Whoopi Goldberg (Ghost), Jennifer Hudson (Dreamgirls), Mo’Nique (Precious) and Octavia Spencer (The Help).
In her heartfelt and inspirational acceptance speech, Nyong’o paid tribute to the past by praising the real life Patseythe abused slave she portrayed in the film. “It doesn’t escape me for one moment that so much joy in my life is due to so much pain in someone else’s,” she said. Moments later she closed with an optimistic note to the future, “When I look down at this golden statue may it remind me and every little child that no matter where you are from, your dreams are valid.”
Steve McQueen, director of 12 Years a Slave, is the first Black director to win Best Picture. McQueen dedicated his award to “all the people who have endured slavery and the 21 million people who still suffer slavery today.”
Jared Leto won the Best Supporting Actor award for his portrayal of Rayon, a character who was both HIV positive and transgender, in the film Dallas Buyers Club. He gave the most articulate and moving speech of the night, dedicating his award to “those of you out there who have ever felt injustice because of who you are or who you love,” while also acknowledging the “36 million people who have lost the battle to AIDS.”
After winning Best Actress for her lead role in Blue Jasmine, Cate Blanchett said the victory was not just for her performance, but also for woman-lead films. “As random and subjective as this world is, this means a lot in a year full of extraordinary performances by women,” she said, “and to the audiences who went to see it and perhaps those of us in the industry who are still foolishly clinging to the idea that female films with women at the center are niche experiences. They are not. Audiences want to see them and, in fact, they earn money. The world is round, people.”
The evening was filled with plenty of other firsts. Alfonso Cuarn, director of Gravity, is the first Latino to win the Oscar for Best Director. Gravity was the night’s big winner, taking home Oscars for seven of 10 nominations, including Original Score, Cinematography, Film Editing, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing and Visual Effects.
This year’s ceremony was also the first to be presided over by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ first Black president, Cheryl Boone Isaacs.
For Ellen DeGeneres, this was not her first but her second time hosting the Oscars. DeGeneres, who came out as a lesbian in 1997 at the peak of her sitcom’s success, has gone on to become one of the most successful comedians and talk show hosts of all time. DeGeneres remains the only openly gay female to host the Academy Awards.
She received rave reviews for last night’s performance, which included breaking Twitter records for most retweeted posta celeb selfie that included Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Bradley Cooper and Brad Pitt, to name a few.
In her opening monologue, DeGeneres jokingly said: “So many different possibilities. Possibility No. 1: 12 Years A Slave wins Best Picture. Possibility No. 2: You’re all racists.”
Apparently the Academy is not racist, as 12 Years a Slave did indeed win.
In recent years, the occasional groundbreaking win has drawn attention to underserved communities. Black actors Halle Berry and Jamie Foxx won top honors for their lead performances in Monster’s Ball and Ray, while films like Crash and Brokeback Mountain (the former beat the latter for Best Picture) both earned high praise for their transcendent storylines.
This year, though, the Oscars seemed to be dominated by diversity in film and in their casts, while more accurately reflecting the population actually going to the theatres and watching these movies.