When “12 Years A Slave” won an Oscar for best picture last night, it made history. It is the first film directed by a black person to ever win the best picture Oscar in the Academy Award’s 86 year history.
When I told my 14 year-old this, she didn’t believe me.
“That’s ratchet,” she said, which means messed up. That it took so long is messed up on the one hand, but hopeful on the other. That Solomon Northup’s story would reach such prominence after almost being forgotten is hopeful, even if it took over 150 years. That his story of enslavement has resonated with so many people and is recognized as American history, (not only black American) is also hopeful. That the actress, Lupita Nyong’o spoke so eloquently of the joy she is awarded based on the pain of the people she and the cast portrayed is also hopeful. That she was born on the same day as my 14 year-old who also wants to be an actress is just a bonus.
While no one has (yet ) made a film about my family’s history, there is a book that touches on some of it. “The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom” by Herbert Gutman is a detailed portrait of the life of people once enslaved by the Stirling family (and other plantation owners) in Louisiana. My third great-grandmother, Eliza Burton was enslaved by the Stirlings. While I haven’t found evidence of her referenced in its pages, Gutman’s book gives me a glimpse into how those in similar circumstances to Eliza lived before and after slavery. Speaking of books, let me get back to writing mine – I need something to pitch to Hollywood!
Before I go, listen to what Solomon Northup’s third great-grandson had to say about the Academy Award-winning film based on his grandfather’s life and what he would say if he won an Oscar.