The closest Chiwetel has gotten to Oscar was for Stephen Frears’ Dirty Pretty Things. But that film didn’t quite break through. But he’s gotten the role of a lifetime in Solomon Northup, the lead character in Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave.
It’s a film about survival in a life-threatening situation, but of course, about the crimes against humanity perpetrated by Americans as the country formed itself into the empire it is today. How easy to overlook this aspect of our history, and to pretend like it was just the way of things. 12 Years a Slave shows slavery for what it really was and how it should be represented in history.
Leading a spectacular ensemble is Ejiofor. Because the film is the frontrunner, that makes Ejiofor also the frontrunner to win Best Actor. His biggest competition is Matthew McConaughey for Dallas Buyers Club.
Ejiofor was born in London’s Forest Gate, to Nigerian parents who belonged to the Igbo ethnic group. His father, Arinze, was a doctor, and his mother, Obiajulu, was a pharmacist. In 1988, when Ejiofor was 11, during a family trip to Nigeria for a wedding, he and his father were driving to Lagos after the celebrations when their car was involved in a head-on crash with a lorry. His father was killed, but Ejiofor survived. He was badly injured, and received the scars on his forehead. Ejiofor began acting in school plays at the age of thirteen at Dulwich College and joined the National Youth Theatre. He then got in to The London academy of music and dramatic art but had to leave after his first year, after getting a role in Steven Spielberg film Amistad. He played the title role in Othello at the Bloomsbury Theatre in September 1995, and again at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow in 1996 when he starred opposite Rachael Stirling, who played Desdemona.