''Slave' becomes master': Newspaper's Oscar headline a major misstep, editor says

'It was tacky, ridiculous and frankly stupid,' says executive editor

Dylan Stableford
Yahoo News

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Cover of the Torrance, Calif., Daily Breeze, March 3, 2014 (Newseum.org)

Like many newspapers, the Daily Breeze published a cover story Monday about the Academy Awards and "12 Years a Slave," which became the first movie ever directed by a black filmmaker to win best picture.

But the Torrance, Calif., newspaper went with a front-page headline that, given the film's subject matter, some deemed insensitive. It read: "'Slave' becomes master."

"I couldn't agree more," Michael Anastasi, vice president and executive editor of news at Daily Breeze owner Los Angeles News Group, told Yahoo News of the criticism. "It was tacky, ridiculous and frankly stupid. I can't defend it, so I'm not going to."

Anastasi said the company, which owns nine daily newspapers, held a meeting with "all editors involved" on Monday to "figure out how this happened," and he said the matter was being handled internally.

He said he was aware of only two calls from readers complaining about the cover.

But the reactions on Twitter ranged from incredulous to irate.

The accompanying cover story, written by Los Angeles Daily News writer Rob Lowman, noted that the period covered in the film about Solomon Northup, an African-American freeman who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841, was "a dark chapter in American history."

Online, the newspaper published a story about director Steve McQueen's on-stage dedication to those who've endured slavery:

“Everyone deserves not just to survive, but to live,” were the powerful words Steve McQueen said as he accepted the Oscar for best picture for his film “12 Years a Slave.” The director dedicated the award to anyone who has endured slavery and the 21 million people he said who are still dealing with it today.

It also published a story by the Associated Press about the diversity on display at the 86th annual Oscars:

For the first time, a film directed by a black filmmaker — Steve McQueen of “12 Years a Slave” — won best picture and a Latino — Alfonso Cuaron of “Gravity” — took home best director in a ceremony presided over by a lesbian host and overseen by the academy’s first black president.

The Daily Breeze wasn't the only L.A. publication to push the the envelope of taste with slavery references. Gold Derby, a website that covers the Hollywood awards season, sent an email blast on Saturday that predicted "12 Years a Slave" would win big at the Independent Spirit Awards.

"Expect a 'Slave' Uprising at the Indie Spirits today," its headline read.

Race was an underlying theme at the Oscars even before McQueen won. Host Ellen DeGeneres poked fun at the largely white audience during her monologue.

"Possibility No. 1: '12 Years a Slave' wins best picture," she said. "Possibility No. 2: You're all racists."

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