Last night’s best picture Oscar win for 12 Years a Slave was more that a tribute to powerful filmmaking. And the evening’s final acceptance speeches were more than ritual thanks to Hollywood insiders. The highpoint of the Oscar telecast became an awareness-raising mega-moment, alerting tens of millions of viewers that slavery didn’t end with the Civil War.
“I am dedicating this award to all the people who have endured slavery,” said 12 Years a Slave director Steve McQueen, “and the 21 million people who still suffer slavery today.”
“Everyone deserves not just to survive, but to live,” he said. “This is the most important legacy of Solomon Northup.”
12 Years a Slave is the true story of a free African-American in New York who was tricked in the 1840s into taking a job away from home, then trafficked to slavery in the South. Solomon Northop was freed more than a decade later with help from anti-slavery activists.
“It’s been an absolute privilege to work on Solomon’s story,” said Brad Pitt, accepting the Oscar with McQueen. Pitt was one of the film’s producers, and he played the Canadian abolitionist who helped Northup break free.
McQueen also thanked historian Sue Eakin, who rescued Northup’s story from obscurity. His original manuscript was a bestseller in 1853 and helped America move closer to outlawing slavery. But it had been lost to history until Eakin rescued one of the few remaining copies and restored it in 1968.
“She gave her life’s work to preserving this book,” McQueen noted.
With three Oscar wins — best picture, best adapted screenplay and best supporting actress — 12 Years a Slave hits store shelves this week as a DVD and digital download. If you and your friends haven’t seen it, consider hosting a house party to screen the film and discuss how slavery has managed to persist in the world today. You can download the Free the Slaves house party guide for tips about how to get organized. Download our slavery fact sheet for some eye-opening statistics.
History can shape the future. Let your community know that helping people to overcome slavery isn’t just a thing of the past.