Niagara Gazette — Fearing that “12 Years a Slave” would meet the same demise as the 1985 blockbuster, “The Color Purple,” I was set to be disappointed by the Academy Awards presentations last Sunday evening.
Purple, written by Alice Walker, directed by Steven Spielberg, starring Whoopi Goldberg, Opra Winfrey, and Danny Glover, about some of the struggles that black women faced when dealing with racism, sexism, and bigotry during the 1900s in post-slavery America was nominated for eleven Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress and eight more, but it won none, not a single one.
Slave, nominated for nine Awards, took home the biggest prize, Best Picture, breaking Margaret Mitchells Gone With the Wind lopsided grip on the depiction of life among African Americans and slavery which that one, single motion picture has held for seventy-five years and every single year, since its 1939 debut.
Ironically, Hattie McDaniel became the very first African American to be nominated and win (Best Supporting Actress) any Oscar for her role as Mammy in Gone. This year the Best Supporting Actress prize was awarded to Lupita Nyong’o for her portrayal as Patsey, a beautiful young slave woman, forcibly beaten nearly to death by none other than our hero, Solomon Northup.
Slave’s John Ridley won the other, perhaps most important, if not biggest prize ... the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, without which (producer, Brad Pitt and Steve McQueen’s powerful direction) this amazing story might not have ever made it to the silver screen.
The painfully beautiful story, which begins in violinist Northup’s home in pre-Civil War, 1841 Saratoga, just 300 miles from Niagara’s Suspension Bridge is likely one of many that we may never know in this detail, but which history knows actually happened.
But the biggest prize of all could not be awarded by the Academy, historians have already granted it to Solomon Northup. Had he not written his memoir, his story might never have been known to so many as will know it now.