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Steve McQueen heckled at star-studded NYFCC dinner

When Robert Redford took the stage to collect his best-actor award from the New York Film Critics Circle (for his solo role in J.C. Chandor’s dialogue-free oceangoing adventure “All Is Lost”) on Monday night, he observed that he didn’t mind speaking late in the evening, as it had given him a chance to watch so many colleagues who were passionate about film. As things turned out, Redford’s relaxed recollections of his early days as a stage and television actor in New York, circa 1959, were only the opening act.

Redford got the first standing ovation of the evening, but the longer and louder one preceded an extemporaneous and immensely moving speech from 87-year-old Harry Belafonte, who was giving the circle’s best-director prize to Steve McQueen of “12 Years a Slave.” On his birth certificate in 1927, Belafonte said, he had been described as “colored.” “Not long after that I became a Negro. Then I became black. Now I’m an African-American. I have spent the better part of a century seeking who I am.” He reflected on the distance the film industry has come from D.W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation,” a historical epic of “great passion and power” whose abusive and racist depiction of black people “carried great cruelty.” He was grateful to have lived to see McQueen’s breakthrough portrayal of the slavery era, which he suggested was something of a historical antidote to Griffith’s poisonous masterpiece, sounding the depths of “who we are as a people, who we are as a country.”

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