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Inside Oscar’s Best Picture Winner 12 Years a Slave

12Years SMThe compelling biopic 12 Years a Slave has won the Academy Award’s top honor as Best Picture of 2013, marking it as a film that will stand the test of time. Nominated in nine categories, the film was the talk of the show as it also won Best Adapted Screenplay for John Ridley and Best Supporting Actress for Lupita Nyong’o. Based on a book first published in 1853 by Solomon Northup, the true story follows an African-American violinist in New York as he’s tricked, kidnapped and forced into slavery in Louisiana. The book has had a major boost in sales as a result of the film taking home a Best Picture statuette — it jumped from number 326 on Amazon to 19 immediately after the Oscar ceremony. 

When Director/Producer Steve McQueen first learned of the book, he knew it was a story that had to be told. As the film was being shot in Louisiana, the filmmakers tried to keep the source material intact while bringing Northup’s story to life. 12 Years a Slave is not only about a man’s battle for freedom but a story about the human mind and spirit and how love can hold us together. While the goal was to convey the book’s stark contrast of good and evil for wide audiences, McQueen also wanted love to be the story’s central point in order to show that “through hope, through love, through faith, through humanity, one can survive anything.”

McQueen hoped that film audiences would relate to Northup’s journey as the character is suddenly taken away from a normal life into a completely surreal, harrowing situation. “I love the idea of starting out with someone who was a free man in the north,” says McQueen, “because often people don’t even know there were free people in the north, but also because he starts off in a loving, happy family. The film is ultimately about love and a situation where people had to go through such unfortunate acts of mental torture as well as physical torture. I had to show that. There is no other way to address the subject matter but with the truth.”

For the leading role of Northup, McQueen knew he couldn’t pick anyone better than Chiwetel Ejiofor to play the part. The filmmaker approached directing the actor in a way that’s similar to coaching a sport. “[It’s like] to coach like every round of a boxing match,” McQueen explains. “He comes back to corner and you give some advice and you put him out there because he has the ability and nobility to hold the camera and hold the whole film together.” McQueen also had the intention of telling a story about slavery that was authentic, and the historical experts who worked on the film made sure that each detail was spot on. “I thought we only had one chance to do this, so we had to get it right,” says McQueen. 12 years a Slave will continue its run in theaters nationwide alongside the film’s release on DVD this month.  


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