With nine nominations, 12 Years A Slave is the obvious favorite at the Oscars this year. Among those nine nods are the big ones – Best Director and Best Picture. This could make McQueen the first black director to win the Best Director award, prompting the question: why did it take so long? Overdue or not, McQueen is ecstatic about the nominations and optimistic about 12 Years’ (generally great) chances.

Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years A Slave Still
12 Years a Slave's chances are looking great at this point.

“I am exhilarated, ecstatic,” he told Entertainment Weekly. “Getting all those nominations, I’m so very happy.”

It’s a predictable reaction to the film’s success, but the promotional duties following the release of 12 Years haven’t exactly been a picnic, says McQueen. A few questions from a press conference with McQueen and the cast at TIFF, during which the director was particularly sharp, come to mind. Nevertheless, he says that the discussion, prompted by the harrowing story of Solomon Northup has been worth it.

See the trailer for 12 Years a Slave below.

“The subject matter conjures up such an interesting debate with the audience that every Q&A has been like a town hall meeting in a way,” McQueen said. “Everyone is talking about the past, present, and future. It’s become much more social and much more passionate in a way. We made a film that was based in 1851, but it’s actually talking about what’s happening today, so it’s been immensely stimulating.”

12 Years A Slave Still
According to McQueen, 12 Years is a film about hope, more than it is about race.

During that same TIFF press conference, the director mentioned that getting to work on and finish the film was rewarding on its own and any additional success would be taken as just a nice bonus. Even so, this doesn’t make the Oscar nods any less important. For USA Today, he said: “It's a bit surreal because you never know. You never know. To have that kind of confirmation is just brilliant.”

Click to read more about the cast of 12 Years a Slave.

And McQueen isn’t the only one excited about the nominations. Lupita Nyong’o, who, fresh out of acting school, won her first Supporting Actress nod for 12 Years, had a particularly strong reaction, says the director.

Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years A Slave
The director is particularly proud of Ejiofor's stirring performance.

 "She rang me in tears and she said 'Thank you, thank you, what have you done?' I said, 'Girl what have you done? Congratulations to you,' " he says.