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'12 Years a Slave's' Lupita Nyong'o to be honored at Palm Springs Film Festival

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It was announced Friday, Dec. 9, 2013, that the 25th annual Palm Springs International Film Festival will present the Breakthrough Performance Award to the newcomer from "12 Years a Slave" Lupita Nyong'o. Presented by Cartier, the Palm Springs International Film Festival Awards Gala will be held on Saturday, Jan. 4, 2014, at the Palm Springs Convention Center in Palm Springs, Calif. Hosted by Mary Hart, the awards gala will also present honors to Sandra Bullock, Julia Roberts, director Steve McQueen, Matthew McConaughey, Bruce Dern, the cast of "American Hustle" and many more in the film industry, to be released soon. The Festival runs January 3-14.

“Lupita Nyong’o is outstanding as the exploited slave whose beauty attracts the attention of Michael Fassbender’s vicious slave master. She delivers a raw and deeply moving performance that serves as the fulcrum for the film’s message of the inhumanity of slavery,” said Film Festival Chairman Harold Matzner. “For her American film debut in '12 Years a Slave,' it is a great honor for the Palm Springs International Film Festival to present her with the 2014 Breakthrough Performance Award.”

Past recipients of the Breakthrough Performance Award include Jennifer Hudson, Mariah Carey, Felicity Huffman, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Renner and Carey Mulligan. Many of these performers went on to get recognition for their work by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. Jennifer Hudson won her Oscar in 2007 for "Dreamgirls" and Marion Cotillard won her Oscar in 2008 for "La Vie en Rose."

"12 Years a Slave" is set in pre-Civil War American and is based on the actual accounts of Solomon Northrup. He was a free man living with a family of his own in the north in pre-civil war America and made money by playing the violin. He was tricked into believing a high-paying circus job was waiting for him, but after traveling to Virginia, he was drugged, kidnapped and eventually sold in slavery. Solomon (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is sent to Louisiana where he sold to a family that owned a cotton farm. The family is fairly nice, considering they are slave owners, but Solomon's life goes in a much worst direction when his owner meets hard times and has to sell his slaves to the cruelest man in town Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender).

One female slave Patsey (Lupita Nyong'o) seems to have it good at first as Epps' mistress, but eventually she is living in a no-win situation as Epps wife does everything to make Patsey's life as bad as possible.

Solomon makes an effort to write a letter and have someone mail it, but he is found out and his months of planning are wasted. When a carpenter from Canada named Bass (Brad Pitt) visits the plantation to do some work, Solomon takes the risk of confiding with the man that makes it clear that he is against slavery. A friend of Solomon's from the North comes to bring him home.

Lupita Nyong’o's was born in Mexico, raised in Kenya and educated in the Unites States. Her performance in "12 Years a Slave" is her feature film debut. She graduated from the Drama School at Yale in 2012. She has had experience behind the camera working as a crew member for "The Constant Gardener" and "The Namesake." She has also is an independent filmmaker. She was the creator, producer, director and editor for her Kenyan film "In My Genes."

Watch for Lupita Nyong'o spring from the Palm Springs International Film Festival to the Golden Globes and Oscars, as her performance was one of the best in 2013.

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Whatever your movie choice this week, please remember your movie theater etiquette: silence your cell phones and no texting, please don't talk during the film and remove your children if they become a distraction to other audience members. Don't forget that laughing, crying and cheering are always approved behavior and even encouraged.

-Kay Shackleton is a film historian with special focus on Silent Films, see her work at


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