LOS ANGELES — Perhaps atoning for past sins, Hollywood named the brutal, unshrinking historical drama "12 Years a Slave" best picture at the 86th annual Academy Awards.
Steve McQueen's slavery odyssey, based on Solomon Northup's 1853 memoir, has been hailed as a landmark corrective to the movie industry's virtual blindness to slavery, instead creating whiter tales like 1940 best-picture winner "Gone With the Wind." ''12 Years a Slave" is the first best-picture winner directed by a black filmmaker.
"Everyone deserves not just to survive, but to live," said McQueen, who dedicated the honor to those, past and present, who have endured slavery. "This is the most important legacy of Solomon Northup."
The normally reserved McQueen promptly bounced up and down on stage, later matter-of-factly explaining his joy physically took over: "So, Van Halen. Jump."
A year after celebrating Ben Affleck's "Argo" over Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln," the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences opted for stark realism over more the plainly entertaining candidates: the 3-D space marvel "Gravity" and the starry 1970s caper "American Hustle."
Those two films came in as the leading nominee getters. David O. Russell's "American Hustle" went home empty-handed, but "Gravity" triumphed as the night's top award-winner. Cleaning up in technical categories like cinematography and visual effects, it earned seven Oscars including best director for Alfonso Cuaron. The Mexican filmmaker is the category's first Latino winner.
"It was a transformative experience," said Cuaron, who spent some five years making the film and developing its visual effects. "For a lot of people, that transformation was wisdom. For me, it was the color of my hair." To his star Sandra Bullock, the sole person on screen for much of the lost-in-space drama, he said: "Sandra, you are 'Gravity.'"