12 Years a Slave is the movie that left a whole theater speechless. And that’s saying something.
Festival-goers tend to gab easily about their likes or dislikes as they walk out of a film, but the crowd exiting Friday night’s emotionally crushing 12 Years a Slave showing struggled to express their overwhelming admiration. They communicated at first mostly in deep exhales and short exclamations like “Wow,” “Amazing,” and “Oh My God …”
Based on a true-life story that starts in 1841, Chiwetel Ejiofor stars as a musician — a free, educated, and rather well-to-do Northern black man — who is kidnapped during a trip to Washington D.C. and transported to the deep South, where he is sold into slavery with no recourse for contacting his family or restoring his legal liberty. It opens to the public on Oct. 18.
Director Steve McQueen (Hunger, Shame) and his impressive cast — which includes Michael Fassbender, Alfre Woodard, Brad Pitt and Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong’o — took the stage after the credits rolled, and the audience managed to shake off its collective shellshock for a standing ovation.
Consider this the first film to qualify as a sure-thing Best Picture nominee, and a formidable contender to win. McQueen, Ejiofor and Nyong’o, who displays immense strength in the face of unconscionable suffering as Patsey, a fellow plantation slave, should also prepare for a long season of red carpets.