Seventy-four years after Hattie McDaniel broke Oscar's color barrier for playing a plantation mammy in Gone with the Wind, the black history saga 12 Years a Slave was named 2013's best picture at the 86th annual Academy Awards in Los Angeles.
Based on the memoirs of kidnapped free man Solomon Northup, 12 Years a Slave collected three Oscars, including best supporting actress Lupita Nyong'o and John Ridley's adapted screenplay.
12 Years a Slave marks another long-awaited academy milestone, becoming the first best picture selection directed by a black artist, England's Steve McQueen.
Accepting the best picture award, McQueen declared: "Everyone deserves not only to survive, but to live. This is the most important legacy of Solomon Northup.
"I'm dedicating this award to all the people who endured slavery, and 21 million people who still suffer slavery today."
McQueen's bid for singular posterity was blocked when Alfonso Cuaron was named best director for the outer space thriller Gravity. The selection made Oscar history itself, with Cuaron as Mexico's first winner in the category.
Gravity finished the evening — which stretched to midnight — with seven Academy Awards, one short of Cabaret's record for the most wins without claiming Oscar's shiniest statuette.
Odds-on favorites in the lead acting competitions — Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine) and Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club) — completed their awards season sweeps on the Dolby Theatre stage.
McConaughey's co-star Jared Leto won the best supporting actor prize for portraying a transgendered AIDS sufferer, his first role after a five-year hiatus largely spent fronting the rock band 30 Seconds to Mars.
Leto's acceptance speech covered a range of subjects close to his heart, starting with a teenage girl raising two children alone in Louisiana in 1971.
"That girl is my mother and she's here tonight," said Leto, 42. "I just want to say I love you, Mom, and thanks for teaching me how to dream."
Leto concluded with words of support to AIDS victims and survivors, and gay people worldwide:
"Tonight I stand here in front of the world, with you and for you."
Soon after Leto's win, Dallas Buyers Club picked up an Oscar for best makeup and hairstyling.
Nyong'o, 31, was visibly stunned by her victory, for a role earned after graduating from Yale's drama school. She became the ninth woman to win a supporting actress Oscar in her movie debut.
Born in Mexico to Kenyan parents, Nyong'o portrayed a slave known only as Patsey, subjected to her master's lust and violence. Nyong'o placed triumph in perspective with her remarks.
"It doesn't escape me for one moment that so much joy in my life is thanks to so much pain in someone else's," Nyong'o said. "So, I want to salute the spirit of Patsey, for guiding me."
The actor invoked ghosts of victimized slaves while thanking McQueen.
"I'm sure the dead are standing around you, watching, and they are grateful," she said.
As expected, Gravity cut a swath through competitions for outstanding sonic and visual achievements, picking up technical Oscars for film editing, cinematography, visual effects, sound editing and sound mixing, in addition to Steven Price's best original score.
Host Ellen DeGeneres was a safe alternative to last year's turn by Seth MacFarlane, whose brand of classy-crass humor divided water cooler opinions. Rather than an elaborate song-and-dance number about celebrity boobs, or a joke about Lincoln's assassination, DeGeneres, 56, was impish enough that even insulting Liza Minnelli's look these days ("The greatest impersonator I've seen. Good job, sir!") didn't seem as cruel.
DeGeneres strolled onstage in a crushed velvet dinner jacket with a natty cravat, eschewing the big opening numbers of MacFarlane and Billy Crystal in his prime. Instead, DeGeneres played it safe, joshing nominees like 84-year-old June Squibb (Nebraska) about being hard of hearing, and Captain Phillips actor Barkhad Abdi's Somali roots making him a "sommalier."
A few of DeGeneres' one-liners scored, like calculating Meryl Streep's expenses for gowns, makeup and hair styling after 18 nominations means: "She can't afford to get nominated again."