In 2013, director Steve McQueen adapted a film from the memoir 12 Years A Slave, which tells the harrowing story of the life and enslavement of Solomon Northup. Born a free man in New York in around 1807 or 1808, Northup was a farmer and a violinist. Grave misfortune befell him when he was lured into the company of men who drugged and kidnaped him and sold him off as a runaway slave. Northup was sold in New Orleans and remained a slave in Louisiana for 12 years as he struggled to survive and attempted to contact his family and friends in the north.
12 Years A Slave features an amazing cast who are so superb in their performance that it’s hard to imagine anyone else come close to pulling it off. The cast includes Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup/Platt. Michael Fassbender portrays the cruel and sadistic slave master Edwin Epps. Lupita Nyong’o landed her breakout role in this film for her moving performance as the slave Patsey. Her performance in this role would earn her an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.
Each of the supporting actors adds their amazing talents to bring depth to this film Sarah Paulson in her role as Mary Elps shows that she can be just as cold and frightening as her husband. Benedict Cumberbatch, through the character of William Ford, gives us insight into how an honest and good man (who is also a Christian preacher) deals with the culture of Southern slavery. Lastly we are introduced to Brad Pitt’s character, a Canadian carpenter/Quaker who laments the evils of slavery and eventually helps Solomon in his quest for freedom.
This film is an amazing achievement, especially in its subtleties, which include: using period specific clothing, shooting on location of historically preserved plantations, and even researching dialect and speech patterns of the time period. All of this is made even more powerful by the film’s amazing score thanks to its famed composer Hans Zimmer. The precise attention to detail shows how immersive the scale of this production was.
12 Years a Slave would go on to receive the Academy Award for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screen Play, and as mentioned earlier, Best Supporting Actress. The film was also a huge success at the box office, earning nearly 188 million off a modest budget of 20 million. This is a monumental period piece and an astounding film. At times it’s quite difficult for a modern audience to comprehended how such callously horrific events could even occur in our nation’s past. It goes to show why the Civil War was imminent in the coming years, as hundreds of thousands of men would give their lives to end the scourge of slavery. This film also highlights the nearly unbreakable human spirit and our quest for justice and freedom.
*Please note: this film is rated R for intense and violent scenes throughout, some nudity, and harsh language.