By Samantha Ofole-Prince
Chiwetel Ejiofor in "12 Years a Slave "
On Jan. 18th during the 20th Annual Screen Actors Guild Award, Chiwetel Ejiofor, a favorite to win, was snubbed of an award for his gripping performance in the movie “12 Years a Slave.” An award voted for and given by fellow actors, the best male performance instead went to Matthew McConaughey, a first-time nominee for his role as an AIDS patient who smuggled drugs into the U.S. for himself and others in “Dallas Buyers Club.” Not that McConaughey, who gave a strong performance in the movie wasn’t deserving of the accolade, but here are six reasons why Chiwetel Ejiofor should have won.
Chiwetel Ejiofor and Sari Mercer
1) So deeply did the actor delve into the character in Steve McQueen’s film, any essence of Ejiofor, the man, ceased to exist. He carried us back in time with him and gave us a clear and concise insight to a lost, forgotten, and otherwise unheralded tale of a fugitive slave. Solomon Northrup offered the actor complexity, and Ejiofor took full advantage. While the true story of a free man sold into story moved us, his performance is widely regarded as among the finest in his career for he dove into the chaos of the human psyche.
2) Ejiofor’s lengthy resume is riddled with a range of electric characters. A stage and screen actor, the caliber of work he has created over the years is outstanding. From his breakout role as a Nigerian Taxi driver in “Dirty Pretty Things” to a future revolutionary in Alfonso Cuarón’s (“Gravity”) “Children of Men,” the drag queen in “Kinky Boots,” “Talk to Me,” “Dancing on the Edge,” “Half of a Yellow Sun” and “American Gangster” which earned him his first ever SAG nomination. He has never carried an epic film on his shoulders in the way he had to in “12 Years a Slave.” It’s film that has already earned him several accolades from numerous film critic associations across the nation. Film lovers have deemed him worthy of an accolade, why don’t a bunch of fellows actors deem him the same?
3) The story of slavery is one that has been largely ignored in classrooms. They are the stories of the shaping of America and, like the Holocaust in Europe, their stories cannot be told and retold enough. There have been all too few films that have captured, or even attempted to convey the truth of the experience of slavery, from the slave’s point of view. In total, there are 101 fugitive slave published books, but only one, Solomon Northup published a book about his passage from freedom, to slavery, to freedom again. With Black History month merely a few weeks away, it would have been a good political move for SAG to recognize Ejiofor’s part in history.
4) Competition in the category was certainly fierce and included three Hollywood iconic actors
Bruce Dern, Tom Hanks and Forest Whitaker. Dern’s nomination was for his performance as a cranky codger chasing a dubious sweepstakes prize in “Nebraska.” Hanks was a sea merchant battling pirates in “Captain Phillips” and Whitaker played a persevering butler in Lee Daniel’s “The Butler”. McConaughey and Ejiofor clearly stand out in the category of nominees and although both went through major physically transformations with their characters, there was nothing memorable about McConaughey’s performance.
Chiwetel Ejiofor in "12 Years a Slave "
5) The best performance went to the biggest name simply because they haven’t been nominated before which is the case with McConaughey who has spent the latter part of his career making fluff flicks such as “Magic Mike,” “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past” and “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.”
6) Playing Mr. Solomon Northup who existed in the 19th century (1807—unknown) Ejiofor had little to go on. Aside from the book, there is little historical evidence, in the form of contemporary accounts of Northrup and no one can categorically say this is or isn’t what he sounded or looked like for there are few recordings from that time period in 1800’s. Neither the circumstances of his death, nor his burial site are known, and no newspaper articles or personal papers have been found that mention Northrup after 1863. Ejiofor takes this character through twelve years of changes and portrays a real-life, heroic figure in a surprisingly convincing, magisterial performance.
His role commanded more of him than his fellow nominees and earned him a nomination, but it should have earned him an award. At the Oscars on March 2, Ejiofor will face tough competition for best actor from Leonardo DiCaprio (“The Wolf of Wall Street”), Christian Bale (“American Hustle”) and again Bruce Dern and Matthew McConaughey.
Let’s hope the Academy recognizes true talent and bestows the actor with a much deserving accolade – an Oscar!
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