6 Reasons 12 Years a Slave Mattered

Whether or not this groundbreaking film wins an Oscar, it has already had a lasting influence on our culture.

Lupita Nyong'o, Michael Fassbender and Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years a Slave
Lupita Nyong'o, Michael Fassbender and Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years a Slave Fox Searchlight

4. It made everyone learn how to pronounce “Chiwetel Ejiofor.” The role of Solomon Northup turned this British actor of Nigerian descent into a household name and an Oscar nominee. With his star definitely on the rise, Ejiofor may soon find himself in the same league of leading men alongside Denzel Washington, George Clooney, Matthew McConaughey and Brad Pitt. And if you’re still unclear on how to say his name, you better go here.

5. It gave Hollywood a new “it” girl—Lupita Nyong’oWhat can we sayThe Root loves her. The fashion world loves her. The Screen Actors Guild and critics love her. Will Oscar voters love her, too? Nyong’o, who scored a best supporting actress nomination nod for her debut role as slave girl Patsey, is in a dead-heat battle with still-“it” girl Jennifer Lawrence. Hollywood hasn’t been this gaga for a newcomer since Lawrence earned an Oscar nomination for her breakout role in 2010’s Winter’s Bone. Since then, Lawrence has scored two more Oscar nods—including a best actress win for 2012’s Silver Linings Playbook—and starring roles in two epic franchises: The X-Men and The Hunger Games. Let’s hope Hollywood showers the same level of love on Lupita.

6. It reminded African Americans that they are descendants of some of the strongest people on Earth. As difficult as it was to watch the unrelenting brutality depicted in the film—which one writer described as “the Disney version” of slavery because it didn’t go far enough in showing how awful human bondage was for blacks—the one bit of comfort that could be gleaned from those moments is that every effort by white slave owners to destroy the humanity of blacks was a complete and utter failure. The slaves who endured—and survived—such horrific conditions gave rise to generations of African Americans who continued to fight and scratch so that they could hold America to its core principle that all are created equal.

Genetta M. Adams is a contributing editor at The Root. Follow her on Twitter.