’12 Years a Slave’ Wins Big, and With Words, at Academy Awards

The film won three of the Academy Award's biggest prizes on Sunday night.

By Jamilah King Mar 03, 2014

The cast and creators of "12 Years a Slave" walked away with three of the Academy Award’s biggest prizes on Sunday night.  Hollywood darling Lupita Nyong’o coined the term "Nairobi blue" and danced with Pharrell before winning the award for best supporting actress. Nyong’o is only the sixth black actress in the academy’s history to win the award, and her acceptance speech was perhaps the most moving of the night.

Here’s a transcript of the speech:

Thank you to the Academy for this incredible recognition. It doesn’t escape me for one moment that so much joy in my life is thanks to so much pain in someone else’s. And so I want to salute the spirit of Patsey for her guidance. And for Solomon, thank you for telling her story and your own.

Steve McQueen, you charge everything you fashion with a breath of your own spirit. Thank you so much for putting me in this position, it’s been the joy of my life. [Tears, applause.] I’m certain that the dead are standing about you and watching and they are grateful and so am I.

Chiwetel, thank you for your fearlessness and how deeply you went into Solomon, telling Solomon’s story. Michael Fassbender, thank you so much. You were my rock. Alfre and Sarah, it was a thrill to work with you. Joe Walker, the invisible performer in the editing room, thank you. Sean Bobbitt, Kalaadevi, Adruitha, Patty Norris, thank you, thank you, thank you — I could not be here without your work.

I want to thank my family, for your training [laughs] and the Yale School of Drama as well, for your training. My friends the Wilsons, this one’s for you. My brother Junior sitting by my side, thank you so much, you’re my best friend and then my other best friend, my chosen family.

When I look down at this golden statue, may it remind me and every little child that no matter where you’re from, your dreams are valid. Thank you.

The film, directed by Steve McQueen, also took home the night’s biggest award for best picture and dedicated his award to the victims of modern-day slavery, saying: "Everyone deserves not just to survive, but to live. This is the most important legacy of Solomon Northup. I dedicate this award to all the people who have endured slavery, and the 21 million people who still suffer slavery today."

And John Ridley, who adapted Solomon Northup’s 19th century memoir and has written pretty controversially about race in the past, won the award for best adapted screenplay. He’s only the second black screenwriter to win the award. 

Another big winner at last night’s Academy Awards was "20 Feet From Stardom," which chronicles the careers of back-up singers, won the award for best documentary. Darlene Love sang her way through one helluva acceptance speech.

While "12 Years a Slave" won the night’s biggest award, "Gravity" swept the board with seven awards, including Alfonso Cuaron’s for best director.