12 Years a Slave is one of the top-rated films that focuses on the true story of slavery. It is based on a memoir written by Solomon Northup, a black man residing in New York when his freedom was suddenly torn away as he was sold into slavery in Louisiana. While this is not the first of movies about slavery in America, it is one that delivers a bitter truth. Directed by Steve McQueen, a well-respected British director, this film does not place a strong focus on visual style, but on an actual story of an intense desire for freedom.
In this memoir, you will learn the accounts of everyday life and see scenes of the extreme cruelty forced upon enslaved individuals in America. Twelve Years a Slave is a historical drama that paints a picture of pain, passion, and desire while recounting the true-life experiences of Northup back in 1841. In this powerful story, you will connect with characters and actually feel their pain suffered during these times in the Southern US.
The Story and Scenes
It opens with McQueen’s adaptation of the account of Solomon being kidnapped and sold to slavery before the Civil War. It starts with a flashback to when he was a successful musician in Saratoga, NY. While his family is traveling, two scouts approach Solomon, assuring him he can work as a fiddler with a circus. They lure him to Washington, wine and dine him, only to find he wakes up in a cell, shackled in silence.
The following scenes take you on an unforgettable journey of horror where Northup is beaten as he insists he is a free black man. At the hands of a slave trader played by Paul Giamatti and renamed Platt, he ends up sold to William Ford played by Benedict Cumberbatch, then to a cruel owner played by Michael Fassbender, before he is sold again to one that offers unexpected kindness, Edwin Epps, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor. The movie focuses on the relationship between these two. This McQueen adaptation is not solely about human cruelty but offers a view of the experiences of African Americans in the South and differences of racist pathology. Hundreds of essays on 12 Years a Slave focus on these experiences, along with violence, racism, and prejudice.
Many scenes contain images of violence as slaves are whipped and beaten. This movie does an accurate job at recounting how slaves were sexually assaulted and harassed. Edwin raped Patsey, which was known to his wife, who did nothing to stop that constant abuse. Many slaves preferred death over living one more day on a plantation, as shown when Pastey begged Platt to kill her to avoid slavery for life.
The movie does a great job at depicting the daily life of enslaved men and women, from cotton picking to harsh working environments where many died from working in the heat. For 12 years, Platt remained a slave before he encountered an abolitionist from Canada that led to his freedom and ability to reunite with his family.
Awards and Reviews from Critics
Nominated for 137 awards, the film received 134, with the most prestigious being an Academy Award for Best Motion Picture of the Year in 2014. It was the first movie produced and directed by a black writer John Ridley and a filmmaker to have won an Academy Award in this category. The Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role was awarded to Lupita Nyong’o for playing the role of Patsey. This film was also awarded the 2014 Golden Globe Award as best drama.
Chiwetel Ejiofor also won Best International Actor AACTA Award. The film also received awards from African-Americans Films Critics Association, Alliance of Women Film Journalists, American Black Film Festival, International Online Film Critics’ Poll, and many more.
Critics have offered mixed reviews on the movie, but Manohla Dargis from the New York Times stated that it was one film that will make it “impossible for American cinema to sell the ugly lies it’s been hawking for more than a century.” Another review from the NY Times stated the drama “does not look away from the reality of slavery and, in doing so, helps us all fully, truly confront it.” Susan Wloszczyna, a respected critic, stated that watching this movie makes one feel they “actually witnessed American slavery in all its appalling horror for their time.”