Capping one of the tightest races in recent Academy Awards history, director Steve McQueen's searing survival tale "12 Years a Slave" won the best picture Oscar, beating out "American Hustle" and "Gravity."
Adapted by McQueen and screenwriter John Ridley from Solomon Northup's 19th century memoir, the film tells the true story of a free black man living in New York who is drugged, kidnapped and sold into slavery in Louisiana.
Owing largely to its often graphic depictions of lynching, whipping and rape — "Either I was going to make a movie about slavery or I wasn't," McQueen said — the film proved difficult to watch for many people, including Oscar voters.
Although "12 Years a Slave" tells a distinctly American story, it was made by an internationally diverse team of filmmakers. McQueen is an English director living in Amsterdam, star Chiwetel Ejiofor and costar Benedict Cumberbatch are from Britain and costar Michael Fassbender is German.
Distributed by Fox Searchlight, the studio behind previous best picture winner "Slumdog Millionaire," McQueen's film was independently financed, chiefly by Bill Pohlad's River Road Entertainment. Brad Pitt, who has a critical role as a Canadian abolitionist, also produced the film through his company Plan B.
The film had been nominated for numerous other awards, winning top prizes from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, the Producers Guild of America (where it landed in an unprecedented tie with "Gravity") and the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn.'s Golden Globes.